The sinking of the Sewol ferry has boosted public awareness of the importance not only of raising safety standards but also of fighting corruption in Korean society and reforming the public service.
In tune with this, the prosecution is extending its anticorruption campaign to one more group that is prone to abusing its power to rake in dirty money: lawmakers.
Currently, a total of 18 members of the National Assembly are being investigated by the prosecution for suspected graft ― three from the ruling Saenuri Party and 15 from the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.
Some of them, like Reps. Park Sang-eun, Cho Hyun-ryong and Song Kwang-ho of the Saenuri Party and Yang Seung-jo of the NPAD, are implicated in individual bribery cases.
Park is suspected of receiving bribes from a shipowners’ association. Both Cho and Song allegedly received kickbacks from railroad parts suppliers, while Yang is suspected of taking bribes from a dentists’ association.
They are accused of receiving sums ranging from tens of millions of won to hundreds of millions of won from people, organizations or private companies on whose behalf they can exert influence as members of the National Assembly. These are typical graft cases.
Then there are more brazen examples, like Reps. Shin Gye-ryoon, Kim Jae-yun and Shin Hak-yong, all from the NPAD. They allegedly received money from the head of Seoul Arts College, an entertainment training school, in return for authoring or supporting a bill to change the Korean name of the school to make it sound more like a regular college than a vocational training institution. They took advantage of their constitutional right to make laws.
Rep. Shin Hak-yong is also suspected of receiving similar kickbacks from an association of kindergarten owners in return for revising the laws on the education of preschoolers and private schools. Prosecutors raided Shin’s safe-deposit box in a bank and seized 100 million won in cash.
Shin claimed that the 100 million won was part of the funds he raised at an event celebrating the publication of his book and cash gifts from well-wishers who attended the wedding of his son. Prosecutors suspect 38 million won of the money Shin received from the kindergarten owners’ association was funneled through the book-promotion event.
This marks the first time that the prosecution has uncovered the source of money a lawmaker received from people participating in an event celebrating the publication of his or her book.
These events are not regulated by the Political Fund Law, and thus there is no limit to the amount of funds lawmakers can receive at them. More seriously, lawmakers are not required to report these funds to the authorities, which means only they and their aides know how much they collected and from whom.
It is an open secret that lawmakers use book promotion events to bypass the Political Fund Law. The Shin cases show that they are nothing but a breeding ground of corruption and that they should be either banned or strictly regulated.