4

The prosecution of corruption in South Korea

Achievements, problems, and prospects

David T. Johnson

The political culture of scandal is unlikely to make the task of creating a stronger and more inclusive form of democracy any easier.

John B. Thompson (2000:259)

[T]he prosecutor, more than any other, is the official with the power to inflict a scandal by the mere circulation of information that action is being considered…. The more factionalism increases, the more prosecution will be part of the struggle.

Matthew Holden, Jr (2000:10)


Introduction

South Korea is corrupt. Indeed, there is broad agreement that the country has a serious integrity deficit. Transparency International (TI), the source of the world's most widely used measures of corruption, ranked it 42nd out of the 91 countries in its 2001 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). South Korea ("Korea") could be found just above Peru and below South Africa. Its CPI score of 4.2 put it as far behind Italy (widely considered the most corrupt country in Western Europe) as Italy was behind France and Belgium, and Korea was located even further behind Japan, a country which is often considered to be "extravagantly corrupt" (Smith 1997:15). Moreover, in TI's most recent Bribe Payers Index, Korea was placed next to last - eighteenth out of nineteen nations - just one floor above cellar-dweller China. 1

Other indicators of integrity tell a similar story. PriceWaterhouse-Coopers has developed an Opacity Index that attempts to measure how "clear, accurate, formal, easily discernible, and widely accepted" practices are in the world's capital markets. This index provides a composite "O-Factor" score for each country based on five different dimensions: corruption, the legal system, government economic policies, accounting standards and practices, and regulation. These five "facets of opacity" generate the acronym CLEAR. By this measure, conditions in Korea are far from transparent. The country ranks 31st out 35 nations, just barely ahead

-47-

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