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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Jan. 18)

All News 07:17 January 18, 2017

Chaebol probe
Business leaders should not be victimized by political scandal

Samsung and the rest of the business circle are in shock after special prosecutors requested a local court to issue an arrest warrant for Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, Monday. An independent counsel investigating the Choi Soon-sil scandal that led to the presidential impeachment sought a detention warrant for the third-generation leader of Samsung on charges of giving bribes, embezzlement and perjury at a parliamentary hearing last month.

Lee is accused of paying or promising to pay 43 billion won ($36.3 million) in bribes to the President's jailed friend Choi in return for Cheong Wa Dae exerting its influence for a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015.

Assistant independent counsel Lee Kyu-chul said that the decision to seek the detention warrant was based on their belief that justice was more important than economic impact. In a statement, Samsung Group said that it could not agree with the special prosecutor's decision because it did not make contributions to get business favors in return.

The independent counsel team's decision to seek an arrest warrant for the leader of the nation's largest conglomerate is somewhat questionable. The counsel team stated in the warrant request that Choi was the money recipient, but it said that money can be seen as a bribe for the President because it had substantial evidence to confirm that Park and Choi shared economic interests. Since the counsel team has yet to question the President, its decision to seek an arrest warrant for Lee seems hasty. It will be extremely hard to prove that Park was the ultimate recipient of the bribes and that she made any financial gain from Samsung through Choi since they are not related.

The counsel team has determined that the "contribution" Samsung made to the two non-profit foundations under Choi's control were bribes. This means that it could come to a similar conclusion for all the 53 firms that also made contributions to the two organizations. The counsel team is likely to investigate other tycoons in the coming weeks. If it is proved that they committed any wrongdoing, they should be duly punished. But the counsel team must verify that they made illegal requests after thorough investigations.

The conglomerates are at fault for resorting to the 1970s style collusion between government and businesses. But it is undesirable for the national economy that the nation's business leaders should be victimized by a political scandal brought on by an incompetent president. The counsel team should not be swayed by public opinion, but proceed with the investigation based solely on the facts and concrete evidence.

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