Gov't pushes to toughen punishment for corrupt civil servants

SEOUL, July 30 (Yonhap) -- The Cabinet approved an anti-graft bill Tuesday that would strengthen punishment for government officials involved in irregularities as part of efforts to root out corruption in the public sector and to regain people's trust in officialdom.

Under the act proposed by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC) last year, public officials caught accepting bribes to peddle influence will face punishment of up to three years in prison or 30 million won (US$26,990) in fines.

The bill will be applied regardless of whether the kickbacks were in exchange for any actual favors, the ACRC said.

Even officials whose bribe-taking is not related to their duties, including bribes to develop personal relations, will also face fines of up to five times the kickbacks received, according to the draft, tentatively named the "Anti-Corruption and Conflicts of Interests Act."

The bill also prohibits making illegal requests to public servants via a middleman, with the solicitor and intermediary being levied a maximum of 10 million won and 20 million won in fines, respectively.

In the case when civil servants grant the illegal requests, they will face up to two years of imprisonment or 20 million won in fines. The amount is increased to up to 30 million won for public officials who make such requests to other officials.

Civil servants will also be banned from carrying out duties related to their personal interests, with newly appointed officials, vice-ministerial level or higher, being excluded for two years from jobs linked to customers they've had personal ties with for more than three years prior to taking office.

The act will be applied to not only public officials in the administrative and judicial branches but also lawmakers.

"The current system fails to punish cronyism-based kickbacks, such as giving and receiving money for nothing while citing their personal ties, and those who solicit or grant illegal requests without any financial reward. The law aims to close the very legal loopholes," said ACRC Chairman Lee Sung-bo.

The government plans to submit the bill to parliament early next month.

Criticism has been mounting over widespread and chronic corruption in public offices in South Korea following a series of high-profile cases. An ACRC survey in 2011 showed that some 56.7 percent of 1,400 citizens regard civil servants as corrupt.

Lee's predecessor Kim Young-ran first led the proposal and had planned to submit it to the National Assembly last year. But it has long been a bone of contention as some critics argue that the regulations are too harsh, raising skepticism over the bill's passage in parliament. Others contend that some of the rules are too vague to apply.

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