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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Aug. 2)

All News 07:03 August 02, 2018

Honesty is the best policy

Suspicions about North Korean coal being smuggled into South Korea despite U.N. sanctions are snowballing. What is more shocking is the suspicion that the practice has been ignored over the last 10 months since the authorities first discovered it last October. We are dumbfounded by a revelation that two vessels involved in the smuggling went on bringing their cargo to harbors in South Korea on more than 20 occasions even after the smuggling was detected by our customs authorities.

In fact, it is hard to affirm the true origin of coal as it has no tags suggesting where it came from. Nevertheless, the South Korean government cannot avoid criticism for not appropriately responding to the smuggling when -- and even after -- it was notified of the suspicious shipments by U.S. intelligence authorities. More baffling developments involve the argument that the Blue House put a gag order on officials in the customs office investigating the smuggling. Taking all the suspicions into account, the liberal Moon Jae-in administration can hardly ease a deepening concern that it has repeatedly connived to ignore the smuggling from the beginning.

South Korea is a party directly involved in the resolution of North Korea's nuclear threats. Therefore, it must take a lead in implementing international sanctions to force the rogue state to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The Moon administration cannot avoid its responsibility for helping to sustain a giant loophole in the global community’s united front against North Korea.

The problem does not end there. Four parties directly or indirectly involved in the smuggling -- including four local trading companies and banks -- could be sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury. If the two banks, known as large-scale financial institutions, face trouble in transactions with their counterparts at home and overseas, it will critically damage our economy -- particularly local enterprises that have accounts with the banks.

The Moon administration must get to the bottom of the case and let the public know what really happened. The adage is true: honesty is the best policy. At the same time, the government must do its best to minimize potential damage to the two companies and two banks. If they were really involved in the smuggling without knowing the origin of the coal, the government should advocate for them. If they were actually engaged in the smuggling with the full knowledge of the origin of the coal, the government must try to help them avoid a secondary boycott by the U.S. government.

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