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Pyeongchang2018 Olympics at the heart of South Korean corruption scandal

By Julian Cheyne and Rebecca Kim - Researcher at the Democracy & Social Movement Institute, SungkongHoe University, Seoul

Against the background of the all consuming scandal which has engulfed South Korea's now deposed President Park Pyeongchang2018 looms up as the next fixture in the Olympic murk. The scandal surrounding ex-President Park Guen-hye, her confidante, Choi Soon-sil, and South Korea’s secretive companies, or chaebols, such as Samsung, Hyundai, Lotte or Hanjin, has cast a light on the shadowy interactions between the government, the secret services and the chaebols, the companies which came to dominate the South Korean economy during the dictatorship of Park’s father, Park Jung-Hee.


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Blacklisting, protest, 'domestic extremism' and the London Olympics

Finally the Metropolitan Police have come clean and admitted their role in the blacklisting of construction workers. While a number of companies had already owned up to their involvement with The Consulting Association, which kept a list of union members for the purposes of preventing them getting work on construction sites, even paying compensation to over 700 blacklisted workers, the police had refused to acknowledge their role in passing on information about union members to companies and The Consulting Association.

The existence of the blacklist, which included the names of over 3,500 workers, was revealed in a raid carried out by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which discovered the details of these workers in an investigation in 2009, although allegations of blacklisting had been made for decades. Workers and lawyers had been convinced blacklisting was an established practice back in the 1960s. The breakthrough came at an employment tribunal in 2008 when Alan Wainwright, a former manager in the construction industry, gave evidence that blacklisting was a widespread practice. The difficulty of proving blacklisting was suddenly overcome leading to the raid on The Consulting Association.

The arrival of the Olympics provided a considerable impetus to the already existing campaign against blacklisting. As the highest profile construction site in the country the Olympic Park attracted attention like no other. In 2009 the Olympics became a focus for protests after it was found in the raid on The Consulting Association that one of the key contractors on the Olympic site, Laing O’Rourke, had been involved with the blacklisting group. Then when, in February 2011, Frank Morris, who was working as an electrician at the Media Centre, was sacked by a sub-contractor after he defended a whistleblower, who had already been fired, there were renewed protests and demands for action and investigation. This led to further revelations about the contacts between Olympics contractors like Carillion, Sir Robert McAlpine and Skanska and The Consulting Association. Despite the knowledge that these Olympics contractors had been named in documents found by the Information Commissioner the Olympics Delivery Authority (ODA) failed to take any action apart from asking contractors if they were involved in blacklisting. Unsurprisingly the contractors denied any involvement.

However, given its place in the public eye, the ODA did not escape so easily. The House of Commons Select Committee on Scottish Affairs started an investigation and in 2013 the ODA was lambasted for its failure to respond to evidence that blacklisting was happening on the Olympic Park. The Chair of the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee declared the 'ODA were deceived, gullible or negligent' after hearing evidence which contradicted the declarations of the ODA's Chief Executive, Dennis Hone, who had told the Committee: “The ODA did not receive any evidence or could find any evidence of blacklisting on the Olympic Park during the construction phase or otherwise."

Despite the steady drip of revelations and investigations it took the Met until February 2013 launch its own ‘investigation’ into police involvement. The interesting question is why the police even needed to have an investigation. They should have known what their own officers were up to. The man who ran The Consulting Associations, Ian Kerr, had himself been a Special Branch police officer, and the Met would have known it was this section of the police which was most likely to have been involved in this kind of dirty operation. As a former Special Branch officer he would have retained valuable contacts in the force.

The Met’s shyness at looking into its own activities was followed by a reluctance to release the report which took an astonishing three years to complete. Then instead of releasing the results of this investigation which, it is now revealed, found the allegations ‘proven’, the report was sent to the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Hogan-Howe, precisely because of its sensitivity. Hogan-Howe, true to form, then failed to pass on the result. The police sat on the report for a further two years all of which demonstrates that the process always had more to do with concealment and evasion than with taking action. Even then the police failed to say anything of substance about what they had found. Indeed the Met’s statement was bland beyond belief:

"The report concludes that, on the balance of probabilities, the allegation that the police or Special Branches supplied information is 'proven'. Material revealed a potentially improper flow of information from Special Branch to external organisations, which ultimately appeared on the blacklist."


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