The heads of Samsung, SK, Hyundai Motor and LG business groups are once again facing the prospect of appearing as witnesses at a National Assembly audit of the government next month, according to sources familiar with the matter, Friday.
Lawmakers have often used the appearances at the public audit sessions to embarrass and criticize business tycoons, while there have been concerns that the grilling could tarnish the image of leading Korean conglomerates amid slow economic conditions.
Rep. Lee Jang-seop of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) seeks to summon Samsung Electronics Executive Chairman Lee Jae-yong, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, Hyundai Motor Group Executive Chair Chung Euisun and LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo, as well as the former acting chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) Kim Byong-joon to audit sessions of the Trade, Industry, Energy, SMEs and Startups Committee.
The lawmaker intends to question the decisions of the top four business groups to rejoin the FKI last month.
They had left the business lobby group in 2016 due to its connection to a bribery scandal involving impeached former President Park Geun-hye. However, they retained their memberships with the Korea Economic Research Institute (KERI), a think tank run by the FKI, and agreed to let the business lobby group take over the membership of KERI after the two entities are merged.
If the trade committee members agree to summon the business tycoons as witnesses, they will likely face inquiries from the opposition party lawmakers about how the FKI and the conglomerates intend to prevent potential corrupt relations between big businesses and politicians.
DPK lawmakers of the Agriculture, Food, Rural Affairs, Oceans and Fisheries Committee also seek to summon the top four business group leaders, as well as 15 other businesspeople, including POSCO Group Chairman Choi Jeong-woo, Hanwha Group Vice Chairman Kim Dong-kwan, Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Won-tae, GS Group Chairman Huh Tae-soo and Nongshim Chairman Shin Dong-won.
The lawmakers plan to ask why the companies have remained reluctant to make contributions to a fund for farmers and fishermen, who could suffer damage from the Korea-China free trade agreement signed in 2015.
In order to prevent the conglomerate chiefs from being summoned, each company's employees in charge of managing relations with politicians are said to be busy visiting lawmakers' offices at the National Assembly.
"Considering the previous cases, lawmakers are unlikely to summon all of the conglomerate chiefs," an industry source said on condition of anonymity.
Last year, some lawmakers sought to summon the top four business group heads as witnesses, but most of them were excluded from the list of witnesses. HDC Group Chairman Chung Mong-gyu even refused to appear at the National Policy Committee's audit, citing an overseas trip he needed to go on as the Korea Football Association chairman.
Among the heads of the nation's top 10 conglomerates, the SK Group chairman appeared at the Science, ICT, Broadcasting and Communications Committee's audit to testify about a fire that damaged the servers of Kakao and Naver based inside SK C&C's building in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.
The POSCO Group chairman also appeared at the Public Administration and Security Committee's audit to answer questions about whether the steelmaker had taken proper countermeasures against Typhoon Hinnamnor, which flooded its main plant in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province.
"Most businesspeople just spend their precious time at the National Assembly without a chance to speak many words," said an official at the nation's top conglomerate, who declined to be named. "Lawmakers should stop embarrassing businesspeople for political purposes."