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South Korea: Two NGOs sue Samsung Group for bribery

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Two South Korean non-governmental organisations have filed a case against executives of Samsung Group. They claim that Lee Kun-hee, the chairperson of the largest corporation of the country, bribed governmental offices and used illegal stock or transactions for his own profit.

(Bangkok, 12 November 2007) Two non-governmental organisations filed a case on 6 November against the chairperson and other executives of South Korea’s largest conglomerate, the Samsung Group, claiming that chairperson Lee Kun-hee bribed members of the National Tax Service and Ministry of Finance and Economy and used illegal stock transactions for his own profit.

The two NGOs—Lawyers for a Democratic Society and People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy—decided to file the case after a disclosure by the former head of Samsung’s financial and legal departments, Kim Yong-chul. On 29 October, in cooperation with the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice, he said that the company spends about one million US dollars a year to bribe the executive prosecutors and manage the bribery strategies. On 12 November he also revealed a list of prosecutors who received the bribes.

In the past, Samsung was involved in a scandal about illegally transferring managerial control to the chairperson’s son, Lee Jae-young, through the help of some executives who were later convicted of bribing politicians. Although the Lee family managed to escape the scandal’s aftermath, this raised suspicion that Samsung had been bribing government and judicial  officials, as well as members of the media.

The two organisations urged prosecutors to start a complete investigation to verify the list of official prosecutors who received bribes. They argue that business should be conducted transparently to highlight  the rule of law in democratic society. They especially stressed the responsibility of public prosecutors to investigate their own ranks, and if necessary, to involve independent special prosecutors in order to demonstrate accountability.