South Korea’s new wed­ding crashers are graft-busters

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A pair of as­pir­ing pa­parazzi staked out two wed­dings in Seoul’s high-end Gang­nam dis­trict re­cently, but they weren’t look­ing for celebri­ties. Their tar­get: of­fi­cials re­ceiv­ing gifts that might vi­o­late South Korea’s tough new anti-cor­rup­tion law. About 4 mil­lion peo­ple are es­ti­mated to be di­rectly cov­ered by the law - civil ser­vants, em­ploy­ees at state-owned en­ter­prises, teach­ers, jour­nal­ists which lim­its the value of meals and gifts that can be ac­cepted.

With re­wards worth up to 200 mil­lion won ($181,691), it is also fu­elling a cot­tage in­dus­try of cam­era-wield­ing, re­ceipt-scav­eng­ing vig­i­lantes tar­get­ing ex­pen­sive restau­rants and fancy wed­dings in a coun­try with a deep tra­di­tion of en­ter­tain­ing and gift-giv­ing. Some of them come for train­ing in the art of es­pi­onage at a school that calls it­self the Head­quar­ters of Re­port­ing for Pub­lic Good, in­clud­ing the two that went to the wed­dings. “You can get rich and be­come a pa­triot at the same time,” school pres­i­dent Moon Seoung-ok told stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing in a re­cent class that in­cluded tips on us­ing hid­den cam­eras. “You can pick up credit card re­ceipts from garbage at restau­rants,” Moon told his stu­dents at his class­room housed in an of­fice near a Seoul court­house, where he hands out book­lets about the anti-graft law. “You need to ob­tain ev­i­dence.”

The 3-5-10 rule

South Korea ranked 27th among 34 Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment (OECD) coun­tries in the 2015 Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tions In­dex com­piled by Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional. Since the law took ef­fect on Sept. 28, golf course reser­va­tions have plunged and fewer guests are at­tend­ing wed­dings, while hos­pi­tals have posted warn­ings against thank-you gifts, me­dia have re­ported. Some groups of din­ers are split­ting bills - a prac­tice once al­most-un­heard of in the coun­try.

Con­sumer and en­ter­tain­ment com­pa­nies could lose up to 11.6 tril­lion won ($10.43 bil­lion) un­der the law, the Korea Eco­nomic Re­search In­sti­tute said in June. The law lim­its the value of meals that can be ac­cepted by pub­lic ser­vants and oth­ers to 30,000 won. Gifts are capped at 50,000 won in value, while cash gifts that are tra­di­tion­ally handed over in en­velopes at wed­dings and fu­ner­als are lim­ited to 100,000 won, un­der pro­hi­bi­tions now known as the “3-5-10” rule.

Vi­o­la­tors can ex­pect fines, but would face crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion for more se­ri­ous in­fringe­ments, such as re­ceiv­ing a gift of more than 1 mil­lion won, or for re­ceiv­ing a to­tal of over 3 mil­lion won worth of gifts in a year. Busi­nesses are scram­bling to ad­just. The lobby group for the Korean con­glom­er­ates known as chae­bol, the Fed­er­a­tion of Korean In­dus­tries (FKI), held a sem­i­nar on Sept. 8 at­tended by about 400 peo­ple on how cor­po­rate of­fi­cials should com­ply with the law.

Check the obit­u­ar­ies

In South Korea, the term “pa­parazzi” ap­plies not only to pho­tog­ra­phers chas­ing celebri­ties but to in­di­vid­u­als who can win cash in other “re­port and re­ward” schemes that cover of­fences such as run­ning traf­fic lights or drop­ping cig­a­rette butts on the street. The Kim Young-ran anti-bribery law, named af­ter the for­mer Supreme Court jus­tice who pro­posed it, has spawned the term “ran-parazzi”. Moon tells his stu­dents to find their way into wed­dings and fu­ner­als. “You have to look into who you are tar­get­ing,” Moon said in an in­ter­view. “Check obit­u­ar­ies in news­pa­pers to find out who’s hold­ing a fu­neral among the up­per class.”

While Moon’s school does not charge tu­ition for the “ran-parazzi” in train­ing, it of­fers to sell stu­dents gad­gets, in­clud­ing pens and spec­ta­cles with hid­den cam­eras. A re­cent class­room ses­sion was at­tended by 10 stu­dents. One of them, Ot­goutugs Ochir, a 46year-old house­wife orig­i­nally from Mon­go­lia, said she hopes to earn enough money to buy an apart­ment. But she also pro­fesses pa­tri­o­tism as a mo­tive. “If the num­ber of those who make money il­le­gally de­clines, my kids can live in a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment,” she said.

An of­fi­cial with the gov­ern­ment’s An­ti­Cor­rup­tion and Civil Rights Com­mit­tee said cit­i­zens re­port­ing vi­o­la­tions should pro­vide de­tailed ev­i­dence. “Any­one re­port­ing should sub­mit a pa­per doc­u­ment with his or her name on it. A sin­gle photo is dif­fi­cult to build a case with,” said the of­fi­cial, who de­clined to be named be­cause he is not au­tho­rized to speak to me­dia.

The wed­dings the two stu­dents staked out did not fea­ture the con­grat­u­la­tory flo­ral dis­plays that are stan­dard at such oc­ca­sions. One of the stu­dents, Song Byung-soo, 60, saw that as a pre-emp­tive mea­sure. “Things have al­ready changed lot,” said Song, who is look­ing to sup­ple­ment the in­come he earns work­ing for a com­pany that sells auto parts but does not ex­pect to hit the jack­pot. “I was hes­i­tant be­cause I have to hurt some­one by do­ing this, but af­ter the train­ing, I think it is al­right. If ran­parazzi can make our so­ci­ety clean with­out spe­cial fa­vors or cor­rup­tion, I think it is a good thing af­ter all,” Song said. — Reuters

TAGUIG CITY: Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, cen­ter, poses with Philip­pine Army of­fi­cers dur­ing his visit to its head­quar­ters. — AP

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