That Torch - Symbol of Sleaze
As the Olympic Torch forces its way around the globe, with a combined army of hundreds of thousands of police and security personnel to ensure that the "message" gets delivered at all costs, the sponsors of this marketing jamboree from hell are trying to put a brave face on it as the torch becomes an emblem of hypocrisy and oppression.
Partners in crime
For Samsung, the high-profile "Presenting Partner" of the Beijing 2008 Torch Relay, it's been doubly unfortunate timing, and a telling example of the bizarre Olympic marriage of corporate greed with moralistic rhetoric. The IOC's claim that the torch is a symbol of purity has become wonderfully ironic as its main sponsor proves itself to be the very opposite.
Following years of suspicion and allegations of illegal business practices that could never be made to stick, Chairman Lee Kun-hee of South Korea's leading chaebol (family run business) has finally been charged with breach of trust and tax evasion following a 4-month enquiry, charges which can potentially carry a life sentence. A staggering $4.6 billion was found in various hidden accounts and in the names of other executives, 9 of whom also face charges.
The reputation of the company had become so bad they were said to be seen by the public as "little more than crime ring". The case had become a cause celebre in South Korea among those concerned at the implications for democracy of so much power being concentrated in the hands of a handful of secretive and ruthless dynasties. Support for the parliament-initiated prosecution came from People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, Lawyers for a Democratic Society and the Catholic Priests Association for Justice.
Charges had originally included the existence of a $200m slush fund for bribery of politicians, officials, prosecutors and journalists based on allegations made by one of Samsung's own lawyers, and illegal share transfers to enable control of the company to be passed to the Chairman's son.
As the torch was paraded in front of invited guests in a heavily-guarded stadium in Jakarta on April 22nd, Lee announced his resignation. "Today, I have decided to step down from the Samsung group chairmanship. I express my deepest apologies for causing great concern to the public as a result of the special probe."
The problem is that Samsung has grown so big and economically significant, accounting for 20% of Korea's exports, that few expect those indicted to face heavy penalties for fear of disrupting the country's fragile economy.
Submitted by Charles Batsworth on Wed, 30/04/2008 - 13:04.