South Korea’s left-wing president loses his zeal to humble big business

Jun 20, 2019

MOON JAE-IN could not have been clearer. In his inaugural address as South Korea’s president, in 2017, he promised “the cozy relationship between political and business circles will completely disappear.” He would force powerful conglomerates, known as chaebol, to reform and “boldly break from the malpractices of old days”. He was alluding, among other things, to the sprawling corruption scandal that had prompted the impeachment of Park Geun-hye, his predecessor.

Prosecutors have indeed harried the chaebol under Mr Moon. Ms Park is serving a long prison sentence for a range of corruption charges. A former health minister was sent to jail for pressing the national pension fund to support a merger in 2015 which cemented Samsung’s founding family’s control over the group. Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s day-to-day boss (in the place of his ailing father), has also spent time in prison for his alleged role in getting the pension fund to approve the merger. Although an appeals court overturned Mr Lee’s conviction for bribery last year, prosecutors have appealed to the Supreme Court.

Corporate-governance campaigners say that Samsung manipulated the terms of the merger between Samsung C&T, a trade, construction, fashion and resorts group, and Cheil Industries in 2015. They say it...

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