Anti-graft law bites S. Korean eateries
THE owner of Poom Seoul, an upmarket restaurant in South Korea's capital, is seriously considering closing her business as customers dwindle ahead of the new anti-graft law designed to curb paid-for favours.
The law, which comes into effect today will make it illegal for government employees, private school teachers and journalists to accept meals worth 30,000 won ($37) or more.
"The number of reservations have recently fallen sharply as customers are apparently worried they might be caught in breach of the law," Roh Young Hee told Agence France-Presse.
"There are meals of different price ranges in the world but, with 30,000 won, you cannot produce decent Korean dishes," she added.
The legislation, the latest effort to curb low level corruption endemic in South Korea, targets teachers bribed by parents to give better grades, journalists paid to give favourable publicity and officials bought off by businessmen to speed up bureaucratic processes.
The law has prompted some restaurateurs to introduce graft-busting menus.
"Instead of expensive Korean beef, we are now using imported US beef for our new dinner set priced at 29,800 won," Restaurant Condu manager Han Yoon Joo said.
The ban also forbids teachers, officials and journalists accepting gifts worth 50,000 won or higher, and cash gifts above 100,000 won for weddings or funerals.
Offenders who accept gifts worth more than a million won will face a jail sentence of up to three years, or fines of up to 30 million won.
Department stores have started to prepare cheaper gift sets and rates to play on golf courses have plunged.
In the past, people charged with receiving bribes got away with a slap on the wrist or were acquitted as it was hard to prove that money or gifts changed hands in return for a favour instead of as a token of hospitality.
In 2010, a businessman revealed on a local investigative TV programme that he had regularly handed 57 former or incumbent state prosecutors cash gifts or treated them to lavish meals and sex services.
A year later, a state prosecutor was investigated over charges that she received cash gifts, designer bags and a luxury sedan from a lawyer.
Ensuing public uproar inspired the new law, the Improper Solicitation And Graft Act, an attempt to tighten loopholes in the country's existing anti-graft legislation.
NGOs have welcomed the law, expressing hope it will help enhance transparency.