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Seoul's corporate watchdog expands probe into business malpractice

 South Korea's anti-trust watchdog is investigating dozens of local companies for their possible involvement in business malpractice that could result in unusual price hikes in the market, government officials said Monday.

   The investigation comes on the heels of a separate probe launched by the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) on Jan. 10 into price rigging and other inflation-causing activities in the corporate sector. The move is aimed at helping the government's all-out efforts to tame inflation.

   "When starting the probe into inflation-causing activities earlier, we also ordered an investigation into the overall business practices involving unfair competition, abuse of market power and distortion of distribution process," a high-ranking FTC official said.

   Around 40 companies and affiliates are under the FTC's scrutiny. They include firms that sell oil, flour, coffee and other goods consumed on a daily basis, sources said. A detailed list of companies was not available.

   The FTC said that it will complete its first-phase investigation before the Lunar New Year holiday that falls on Feb. 2-4. Based on the results, it will select companies that will be subject to its intensified probe down the road, the sources added.

   The move comes as the FTC has been beefing up efforts to crack down on corporate practices that could affect prices of goods mostly consumed by working-class people in their daily lives.

   Last week, the watchdog said that it sent its officials to the nation's four major oil refineries to investigate whether they engage in business malpractice that could drive up gas prices at the pump.

   The government earlier declared a "war" on inflation amid rising food and commodity prices as it is concerned that price instability could hamper its push to achieve a sustained economic recovery. 

(Yonhap News)