Photographer: Jung Yeon Je/AFP via Getty Images

Heiress, Pitcher and Kingmaker in Focus as Korea Graft Law Looms

  • Scandals come as anti-corruption law upheld in court
  • New law caps meals and gifts public officials can accept

South Korea’s constitutional court on Thursday ruled to uphold an anti-corruption law aimed at ending the practice of pampering public officials with meals and gifts.

The nation’s strictest-ever law against graft, which will now take effect in September, sets a cap on what government workers, teachers and journalists can accept at 30,000 won ($27) for meals and 50,000 won for gifts. It came about after calls for tighter regulations following the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking -- a disaster that exposed inappropriate connections between the shipping industry and its watchdogs.

A recent flurry of investigations and arrests has added to the push to enact the law. At the same time, some economists and agricultural groups have said the changes could hurt restaurants and farmers (given typical gifts include beef, fruit and seafood), and the law was cited as a risk to growth by the central bank this month.

For more on the economic impact of the law, click here.

South Korea ranked 37th out of 168 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index in 2015. Higher-ranked countries are seen as less susceptible to graft. Asian neighbors including Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong were rated less corrupt than South Korea.

Here are some of the recent corruption scandals that have rattled South Korea:

Heiress

Shin Young Ja
Shin Young Ja
Photographer: Sipa via AP Photo

Shin Young Ja, 73, eldest daughter of Lotte Group’s founder, was charged this week with bribery and embezzlement. The heiress to the conglomerate is accused of taking kickbacks from a cosmetics maker for preferential treatment of its products in Lotte duty-free shops, as well as allegedly embezzling more than $3.5 million from a company owned by her son. Shin has denied the allegations.

Railroad Chief

The former chief of Korea Railroad Corp. was sentenced last week to 10 months in prison for receiving 80 million won in illegal political funds from a businessman. Huh Joon-young served as South Korea’s chief of police before heading the state-run rail operator.

Auto Executives

Two executives of General Motors Co.’s Korea unit have been charged with accepting tens of thousands of dollars to give preferential treatment to a company when purchasing gifts for employees. Prosecutors have withheld their identities, saying the probe is continuing. General Motors Korea has said it can’t comment on an ongoing investigation.

Prosecutor

Jin Kyung Joon
Jin Kyung Joon
Photographer: Park Dong-ju/Yonhap via AP Photo

Senior prosecutor Jin Kyung-joon was arrested this month on charges of accepting bribes from online game maker Nexon Co., the first high-ranking prosecutor to be arrested in the 68-year history of the country’s current system, according to Yonhap News. Jin has apologized for lying about an aspect of the allegations but has not commented on the bribery charges. Nexon has said it lent Jin money to buy its stock but did not charge him interest.

Kingmaker

Ahn Cheol Soo, a software tycoon who became an influential political figure, resigned last month as the leader of the People’s Party after three of its members were accused of receiving $205,000 in illicit political funds ahead of April’s general election. Ahn said he was "taking full political responsibility" for the case.

Ahn Cheol Soo
Ahn Cheol Soo
Photographer: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Soccer Scout

A scout for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motor’s soccer team -- K League champions in three of the last five years -- has been charged with bribing two referees. The charges against the unidentified person come less than a year after officials with a rival team were convicted of bribery. Jeonbuk said it suspended the scout and he acted alone.

Match-Fixing

Yoo Chang-sik, a pitcher for the Kia Tigers, told police this week he deliberately walked two batters in separate games in return for cash payments of 1 million won and 2 million won, according to Yonhap. He is the third professional baseball player to come under investigation on allegations of match-fixing this year. Yoo has publicly apologized.

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