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2017-11-22 17:28
Case shows chaebol’s outdated sense of privilege


Hanwha Chairman Kim Seung-youn reportedly lamented that his children’s misbehavior was one of the few areas he couldn’t control after his Dartmouth-graduate third son’s abusive acts — pulling the hair of a woman and hitting another while trash-talking during a dinner with rookie lawyers of Kim & Chang, the legal service consortium — was belatedly revealed.

The lamentation by one of Korea’s richest men draws little sympathy, however, but rather is the object of mockery. The 65-year-old tycoon of the conglomerate ranging from hotels and resorts to defense business set plenty of bad examples himself. In 2007, he called in a group of thugs to kidnap and beat bar employees who got into a scuffle with his second son, a Yale graduate. So it is a case of like father like son.

The troubled third son, Dong-seon, went on a rampage at a bar in January and has been free thanks to the stay of the execution of an eight-month jail term.

Now, there are two important points to tackle over the latest trouble involving the member of the Hanwha “owner” family.

First, it is one of many cases of “gapjil” — acts by the privileged class to exercise undue influence on employees and others in weaker positions.

So far, these gapjil cases have been treated lightly as concerned individuals’ misbehavior. As a result, the perpetrators often get away with some naming and shaming. After the January incident, Dong-seon asked for leniency and pledged never again to misbehave. Now, it didn’t even take a year for him to break his own promise before the court. This recidivism shows how deeply entrenched Kim’s sense of entitlement is, the common characteristic seen in other gapjil cases.

They aggravate the gaping haves/have-nots inequality and give the people a collective sense of frustration, with the subsequent bill of social costs increasing exponentially. This calls for a correction of the erstwhile lenient view, including gapjil as a target of the government’s ongoing efforts to liquidate historical improprieties.

It is a matter of course to check whether this shift and the entailing stronger punishment against these criminal acts from the privileged violate the rule of law. Let’s turn the tables around for a second. Chaebol owners often walk after serving a part of the sentence or making a tearful apology. Their indulgence is the purportedly big contribution they have made or are expected to make to national economic development.

As shown repeatedly, the big Korean companies are no longer mom and pop stores needing the constant attention of their owners. Besides, they have become what they are thanks in large part to the collusion with a series of development dictatorships.

In other words, the taxpayers have a big stake in them. So if they call in their favors and stop giving the delinquent rich class special treatment, this could be a start.


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