Perhaps one of the most interesting lawsuits coming out of South Korea seems to have been resolved. It involved Samsung and journalist Michael Breen. I no huge fan of Mr. Breen. He tends to be somewhat cynical in his coverage of Korean big business. His attack on Samsung is no surprise. What surprised many was that Samsung took him to court.
Some of the details pulled together nicely by the LA Times
Headlined “What People Got for Christmas,” the English-language column [in Korea Times] also poked fun at global technology giant Samsung Electronics, referring to past bribery scandals as well as perceptions that its leaders are arrogant.
The piece was meant as a satirical spoof, the columnist says, but Samsung wasn’t laughing.
Breen’s column ran as local media reported that President Lee would soon pardon Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee on a 2008 conviction for tax evasion. Chairman Lee, 68, had already received a federal pardon in the 1990s on a conviction for bribing two former presidents while he was with the firm.
On Dec. 29, the day of Lee’s pardon, Samsung sued the freelance columnist, the newspaper and its top editor for $1 million, claiming damage to its reputation and potential earnings. After the Korea Times ran clarifications, the newspaper and its editor were dropped from the suit.
But Samsung continues to pursue Breen personally for libel, both civilly and on criminal charges that he intentionally libeled the company. If convicted, he faces a hefty fine and even jail time.
“The reason I’m being sued is that the beast roared,” said Breen, 57, a British native and longtime social commentator and South Korean resident who wrote a 1998 book on South Korea’s modern history.
In its suit, Samsung said the column used a “mocking tone” to add “baseless, malicious and offensive false information to criticize” the firm.
After Samsung complained, the paper ran two clarifications, one of which Breen says he was told by editors was written by Samsung.
[note to readers of the KoreaLegal.org]
Legal experts here say the case underscores the considerable power wielded in South Korean society by such mammoth corporate conglomerates, known as chaebols, which are dominated by top officials, often related, who are treated here as near-royalty.