Fair Trade Commission Chairman Kim Sang-jo was bombarded with questions from both ruling and opposition parties over corruption allegations related to the FTC’s retirees during a parliamentary inspection Monday.
This put further pressure on the nation’s antitrust watchdog amid an ongoing investigation by prosecutors into top officials accused of forcing conglomerates to hire the FTC’s retirees.
Fair Trade Commission Chairman Kim Sang-jo answers to a question by a lawmaker during a parliamentary inspection of the administration on Monday. (Yonhap)
Rep. Kim Byung-wook from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea said the Fair Competition Federation, which is privately run and chaired by former FTC members, allegedly collected money forcefully under the pretext of membership since 2007.
They allegedly collected a total of 800 million won ($700,000) forcefully from conglomerates and large law firms since 2007.
The conglomerates and law firms that paid the dues include Hyundai Motor, Samsung Electronics, SK Telecom, SK Innovation, Lotte Shopping, Kim & Chang, BKL and Lee & Ko.
According to Rep. Kim, the FTC officials also called vice presidents of conglomerates to the federation office to discuss the recruitment of FTC retirees.
“The FTC used the federation to unfairly wield power to land jobs for its retirees. The companies and law firms also did not pay the money voluntarily. It was a kind of bribe to maintain relations with the FTC,” said Rep. Kim.
The lawmaker called on Chairman Kim to dismantle the federation “as it damages the neutrality of the FTC.”
In response, Kim Sang-jo said, “We will thoroughly supervise and oversee the federation. If it still does not recover trust, we will review (dismantlement).”
Similar corruption allegations related to the FTC’s retirees were also raised by other lawmakers.
Rep. Koh Yong-jin from the Democratic Party said the Korea Mutual Aid Cooperation Association, which is privately run and chaired by former FTC members, unfairly awarded contracts to the law firm Hwangbo & Partners, whose lawyers are largely from the FTC.
The association awarded contracts for 16 out of 24 legal cases to Hwangbo & Partners since 2016, according to Koh.
Also, Rep. Kim Sun-dong from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party suspected that the FTC reduced the amount of penalties by up to 45 percent for companies that were defended by lawyers who were former FTC officials.
“It is suspected that the FTC reduced the amount of penalties out of courtesy,” Rep. Kim said.
Amid the growing scandal over the retirees, the FTC plans to revise its ethics code for retirees this month and set up a website next month to announce retirees’ job history.
By Shin Ji-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org)