Members of the National Policy Committee of the South Korean National Assembly are reviewing proposed amendments to the country’s domestic anti-corruption laws. Titled the “Bill on the Prevention of Unjust Solicitations and Conflicts of Interest”, the new law is designed to strengthen the anti-corruption framework, including the imposition of harsher penalties on those found guilty of misconduct.

South Korea is currently ranked 46th among 177 nations in the Transparency International 2013 “Corruption Perceptions Index”. A number of commentators have called for the existing anti-corruption regime to be strengthened, highlighting concerns over the close relationships that exist between the industrial conglomerates, or chaebol, which dominate the South Korean economy, and the political elites. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has noted the limited number of anti-corruption enforcement actions in South Korea and, where these prosecutions are successful, the light sentences that have been imposed.

The new law was first proposed two years ago by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, and focuses on strengthening controls over the activities of civil servants which might lead to a conflict of interest. Public officials who are found guilty of accepting kickbacks would face fines of five times the amount of any illegal payment together with imprisonment for up to three years. Under the current legislation, a direct connection must be shown between an official’s duties and the acceptance of a bribe, in order for that conduct to be considered illegal. The new law not only removes this condition but introduces a new provision whereby officials can be found guilty of corruption if a member of their family accepts a bribe. This change is designed to address one of the more egregious loopholes that have previously been employed to facilitate corrupt payments.

South Korean President, Park Geun-hye, is pressing the National Assembly to expedite passage of the bill, which follows a number of high profile scandals, including the release of a government report into the sinking in April, 2014, of a passenger ferry that led to the deaths of 304 passengers. Ms Park has also announced plans to introduce other reforms in her ongoing fight against corruption, including a ban on retired public officials accepting positions with companies in sectors they had previously regulated.