HSE University Anti-Corruption Portal
South Korea: Anti-Corruption and Economic Reasoning

The rules governing the acceptance of gifts by officials have been temporarily relaxed in the run-up to the Korean Lunar New Year (Seollal, 설날).

For instance, the limit on authorized gifts for the officials subject to restrictions on the acceptance of gifts* introduced in accordance with Law No. 13278 of September 28, 2016 “On Countering Solicitation and Receipt of Illicit Remuneration” will be raised to 200,000 KRW (roughly 179 USD) in the period between January 19 and February 14 but only if such gifts are agricultural or fish products or their by-products.

Agricultural and fish products include the Korean Hanwoo beef, fish, fruit and flowers, and their by-products are red ginseng, fermented fish and kimchi more than half of which are agricultural or fish products.

According to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission and the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of South Korea these changes will help support the demand for agricultural and fish products during the holidays, whose reduction is expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

It should be highlighted that such an explicit relaxation of anti-corruption restrictions with the aim to bolster the economy is a nontrivial solution in international practice. However, it is not the first time that South Korea resorts to it. For example, similar relaxation of restrictions during the Chuseok holiday (추석) last year led to an increase in sales of agricultural products by seven per cent compared to the previous year. 

*According to the Law, public officials, officials holding managerial positions in public organisations, schools and educational institutions, representatives, managers and employees of media companies and their spouses are forbidden to receive, demand or agree to accept any money, property and other benefits, whose value exceeds 1,000,000 KRW (894 USD) in one amount or 3,000,000 KRW (2,682 USD) in installments throughout a year from the same source regardless of whether this is related to the exercise of their official duties and the pretext under which these benefits (donation, sponsorship, gifts), as well as money, property and other benefits of any value are provided in relation to the performance of their official duties.

However, the following benefits are not considered as illicit for the purposes of the restrictions:

  • income from visiting lectureship;
  • money, gifts and other benefits provided to the official by the public body/organisation or superiors as a consolation, encouragement or reward;
  • board worth up to 30,000 KRW (roughly 27 USD), gifts whose value does not exceed 50,000 KRW (around 45 USD), agricultural products amounting to 100,000 KRW (roughly 90 USD) whose aim is to ensure uninterrupted operation or which are provided during social events, ceremonies/rituals or in aid;
  • money and property received in accordance with legal rights, for instance, as a result of debt payment in a private transaction (except donations);
  • money, property and other benefits provided by relatives;
  • money, property and other benefits provided by labour societies for mutual aid, clubs, alumni associations, neighbourhood associations, public and religious organisations, whose member the official is, to their members, as well as money, property and other benefits provided by persons who have lasting and permanent relationship with the official, for instance, members of the aforementioned associations if the official needs help because of illness, natural disasters, etc.;
  • money, property and other benefits such as payment of reasonable transport, accommodation and meal costs which is equally provided to the participants of an official event related to the exercise of official duties by the official;
  • souvenirs and merchandise articles circulated to a wide range of people, as well as awards and prizes won in competitions, drawings and lotteries;
  • money and property authorized by other laws, by-laws, standards or social norms.

The violation of bans and restrictions established by law is punished by imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to 30,000,000 KRW (roughly 2,523 USD).

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