3 years jail for $50 gift? South Korea introduces strict anti-corruption law

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Story highlights

  • Strict new laws will attempt to crack down on corruption in the country
  • Vast majority of South Koreans think their politicians are corrupt

Seoul (CNN)If you're dining with a South Korean public official, don't order the lobster.

Top quality beef and liquor may also be off the table, and if you want to send a gift, it may have to be a box of tuna or spam.
    A new anti-corruption bill, described by some as the strictest ever, took effect in South Korea Wednesday.
    The bill, designed to root out bribery and corruption, forbids people from buying a meal worth more than 30,000 Korean won ($27) for public officials, state-run company employees, journalists and school teachers.
    It also limits gifts to $45, and donations to $90.
    Anyone who goes over the limit could face up to three years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.
    Restaurants in Seoul have introduced special cheaper "anti-corruption" menus.

    Corruption

    The regulation comes at a time when mistrust in public officials is running high.
    According to a 2014 survey conducted by the Korea Institute of Public Administration, 78.7% of respondents said corruption among senior officials was serious, while almost 90% also believed it was serious among parliamentarians.
    A survey the following year by the Anti-corruption and Civil Rights Commission found 60% of responders said they believed South Korean society is widely corrupt.
    In a country where extravagant meals, gifts and donations at, birthdays and funerals are common and accepted as part of culture and business etiquette, the law is stirring nationwide debate.

    Business criticism

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    Many small business owners have expressed concerns that the new limits could have a serious impact on them and the country's already struggling domestic consumption rates.
    A spokesman for South Korea's Small Enterprise and Market Service told CNN they estimate the bill could cause losses of $2.6 billion per year for small businesses and a loss of 1.26 million customers.
    "Although we sympathize with the purpose of the law, which is intended to improve trust within public sectors ... we are concerned that implementing this law could cause big side effects," the Korean Federation of Small and Medium Business said in a statement.
    "(The law) could harm 7 million small traders and business owners and those involved in agriculture and forestry," it added.
    Nevertheless, restaurants owners in downtown Seoul are attempting to adjust to the changes. They are advertising new deals just under the tough limits, calling them "anti-corruption law menus."