Did you know that the chairman of Samsung, Lee Kun-hee, was convicted in 2008 for tax evasion in South Korea? Or that he was convicted in the 90s for bribing politicians? A British journalist, Michael Breen, wrote a satirical column in a South Korean newspaper last December, and now the electronics giant is suing him for libel. If found guilty, Breen could face jail time.
There are two issues that make this even possible. The first is that South Korea has backwards libel laws (much like the rest of the world) that allows the offended party to sue even if the person they’re angry with wrote the truth. The second is that Samsung is considered a chaebol, which is some fancy Korean way of saying a mega-powerful conglomerate whose top officials are “treated as near-royalty” according to the Los Angeles Times.
The result is that even though journalist Michael Breen wrote something that was clearly satire, and even though the butt of his joke has indeed been convicted of tax evasion and bribery, Samsung can claim that his actions damaged the company’s reputation.
Weirdly, Samsung doesn’t admit that its chairman’s actual criminal behaviors were bad for the company’s reputation; it’s the journalist who joked about those behaviors who puts the company’s profits at risk.
Here are the two jokes that could send Breen to jail:
One item read that Samsung had sent to all employees photographs of the son of the firm’s chairman with instructions for hanging the photo next to one of his father — an allusion to North Korea’s Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
Breen also wrote that Samsung, “the rock upon which the Korean economy rests, sent traditional year-end cards offering best wishes for 2010 to the country’s politicians, prosecutors and journalists along with [$50,000] gift certificates.”
“Samsung doesn’t find satirical spoof amusing” [Los Angeles Times] (Thanks to Mark!)