Corruption in Korea: What is the Crux of the Problem? by Tom Coyner

Whenever I read a news item regarding Korean corruption, I have mixed feelings. Usually the article is based on the latest finding by a well-meaning NGO that focuses on corrupting influence of big business on government without adequately addressing the root causes or even the breadth of corruption. Korean corruption doesn’t limit itself to envelopes and car trunks of cash being paid by business people to government officers. *The following article is a re-posting of an article by Tom Coyner.  The article first appeared on this law blog in 2012.  The issues remain the same and we thought this was an excellent time to repost this excellent article on an important issue for those doing business in Korea.  So one may ask oneself, “Can Korea end its many forms of corruption?” That is the essential question, and the obvious answer is “no.” I don’t mean that as a cynical observation.

Continue reading

Building Systems Before JVs in Korea to Build Trust between Partners

A blog referred to me by the China Law Blog has a wonderful post on Developing Trust in China by Building Trustworthy Systems/Processes.  The same advice given in this blog post is relevant to work done in Korea, Southeast Asia, China and even the West.  We believe that the verification of the developing and implementation of these system is, often, necessary before building a joint venture relationship with a Korean company. The value of building systems is not to be underestimated in Korea.  Koreans, in most respects, are wonderful at performing tasks that are well dictated and explained. While in the West, we often appreciate more autonomy and, often, don’t strive when systems are too rigid. In the East, many strive on ordered guidance. My law firm often works with business consultants to assist client in implementing systems that reward following these systems/processes. These “systems” are, often, incorporated by reference

Continue reading

Contract Drafting in South Korea

The following post considers some of the basics of contract drafting in South Korea. The following post is meant to be, only, a basic explanation of the basics of a good Korean contract based on a few observations. This post is not meant to be an exhaustive explanation of this issue, books have been written on contract drafting and we will not be drafting a book with this post. The main purpose of drafting a contract is to avoid a dispute. This article and a great Korean-experienced lawyer with an understanding of business in Korea and your industry should assist you in avoiding a legal dispute in Korea. Basics Considerations Before Signing a Contract in Korea Contract Clarity.  We see all too often, Korean contracts that lend themselves to unnecessary ambiguity. In some cases, ambiguity may be a benefit to our clients doing business in Korea, but in other cases, ambiguity

Continue reading

Minority Squeeze-outs in Companies in Korea

The amended Korea Commercial Code of 2012 allows majority shareholders with 95% of the shares of a company in Korea, to purchase the shares of the minority for “fair value.”  Thus, allowing a statutory means under Korean Law to squeeze-out a minority shareholder. Fair value may be determined by the court if the parties are unable to reach an agreement within 30 days of a request by the majority shareholder to purchase the shares of the minority. We advise that you place a mechanism within your shareholder agreement (if possible) noting the manner of determining fair market value. ___ Sean Hayes may be contacted at: [email protected] Sean Hayes is co-chair of the Korea Practice Team at IPG Legal. He is the first non-Korean attorney to have worked for the Korean court system (Constitutional Court of Korea) and one of the first non-Koreans to be a regular member of a Korean

Continue reading

“Probationary Periods” in Korean Employment Contracts for Newly-Hired Workers

Korean companies should consider negotiating stipulations to create “probationary periods” at the start of employment to train and assess newly-hired Korean workers. Often companies wish to evaluate workers over a set period of time after concluding a labor contract to assess the worker’s abilities and intelligence, and to allow the worker time to gain familiarity with the work.  This period of employment is called a “probationary period.” The practice is relatively unregulated by the government. The Labor Standards Act of Korea provides, among other things, minimum standards for conditions of employment, prohibits discrimination and the use of force or violence against workers.  But, it provides little guidance on regulating “probationary periods.”  The only guidance the Labor Standards Act provides can be found within Article 35, which states that employers do not need to provide 30 day notice of dismissal to workers under a “probationary period” and within Article 77, which

Continue reading

Korea’s Improper Solicitation & Graft Act?: Scope of Application

The Scope of Application of the Improper Solicitation and Graft Act of Korea (“Graft Act”) was a hotly contested issue that led to Korean court challenges.  The Constitutional Court of Korea has upheld the Graft Act of Korea.  More details, including a list of articles on the Graft Law of Korea, may be found at: Improper Solicitation & Graft Act of Korea. The Scope of Application is defined in Article 2 & Article 11 of the Bribery Act.  The Act applies to both Korean and foreign nationals.  The Act applies to foreign nationals, only, for prohibited acts within Korea and to Koreans for prohibited acts universe wide. Summary of the Scope of Application of the Graft Act of Korea Article 1(a) Institutions Highest Government Organs (National Assembly, Ordinary Courts, Constitutional Court) Other Government Organs (election commissions, Board of Audit and Inspection, Human Rights Commission) Central Government Administrative Agencies Local Governments

Continue reading

Fiduciary Duties of Korean Directors/Representative & Controlling Shareholders of Korean Companies

Directors of companies, registered in Korea, many be held criminally and civilly liable for acts as a director (in limited cases even controlling shareholder can be held criminally liable).  Many acts (or inactions) that would not be deemed criminal in the West are, often, deemed criminal in Korea.  Additionally, matters that are considered in the West as mere “civil” matters, often, begin and end at the Korean prosecutor’s office. A little due diligence, complying with corporate formalities, nuanced corporate governance practices and a little street smarts coupled with good liability insurance is a good start in succeeding in business in Korea. We have been on both sides of matters were directors (and even controlling shareholders) have been prohibited from departing Korea, jailed and fined.  In most cases, liability is unlimited and it is presumed that a director has complied with the decision of the Board of Directors if no dissent

Continue reading

Korean Compliance Checklist for your Business in Korea

The following Korean Compliance Checklist is intended to provide, only, a basic overview of the necessaries for keeping the law and shareholders off your back.  We, highly, recommend having a compliance audit preformed – if you have not completed a compliance audit of your Korean business in the past or recently.   1.  Do you Have a Registered Company/Business? Operating in Korea is not as simple as just leasing an office.  All businesses whether in the form of a corporation or sole proprietorship in Korea are required to register as business with the tax office and local government offices.  For some businesses the approval of a government agency shall be required.  Other articles on Korean corporate forms may be found at: Establishing a Company in Korea: Under Revised Corporate Code Limited Liability Companies Under the Revised Korean Commercial Code 2.  Do you Have Employment Agreements, Employment Rules, License Agreements, Joint

Continue reading

Choice of Law Issues in Employment Disputes in Korea

Choice of law/jurisdiction issue often arise in Korea when an agreement chooses a law/jurisdiction for resolution of a dispute other than Korea, internal conflicts in the agreement exist (yes this happens) or no choice of law/jurisdiction clause was chosen and the agreement seems to be better handled by a foreign court, or by the law of the foreign jurisdiction, because of, inter alia, the locale of witnesses and the subject matter of the agreement. Choice of law/jurisdiction issues are governed in Korea mainly by Korea’s Private International Act (KPIA).  However, other acts often trump the KPIA, or else the courts use built-in “public policy” arguments to allow Korean law to trump the non-Korean chosen law. For example, in the majority of employment law disputes, Korea courts have invalidated choice of the law and jurisdiction clauses that note a law or jurisdiction other than Korea. For example, if a employer hiring someone for

Continue reading

Distribution Agreements in Korea: Crawl before you Walk

Prior to going into any relationship with a distributor/agent in Korea, please read my post entitled: Finding a Korean Distributor: The Top 10 Things to Know Before Going to Bed with a Distributor in Korea. Please read that post in combination with this post, prior to engaging a distributor in Korea. We see too many Korean distribution agreements that are mere spun U.S. or European agreements.  Please have your Korean distribution agreement and all agreements you have in Korea drafted by an experienced and proactive attorney that has on-the-ground experience in Korea.  We see too many issues that could have been easily resolved by a carefully drafted agreement and a little due diligence. Issues to consider for your Korean Distribution Agreement: Will your distributor in Korea be your agent?  If the Korean distributor is an agent, generally, you will, only, be paying your agent In Korea a commission and you will be

Continue reading

Korean Business Culture vs. Western Business Culture Explained by IPG Attorneys

We, often, have clients that proclaim that they can’t understand the way that Koreans do things.  They complain about an inability to reason, keep promises, express opinions and give a straight answer. Koreans have plenty of complaints about Westerners also.  Koreans, often, complain that Westerners concentrate too much on details and not enough on the big picture, care about money more than friendship and focus too much on efficiency. The root of these issues is vastly different cultural realities. Korean Business the Gangnam-Style Way The Lewis Cultural Model does an excellent job of explaining these differences.  The Lewis Cultural Model breaks cultures into three distinct categories: Linear-Active; Multi-Active; and Reactive. Linear-Active Cultures Linear-Active cultures base decisions and actions on logic.  Individuals in these cultures tend to be efficient, schedule oriented, and base decisions on a plan and reason.  These individuals are often criticized for focusing too much on the task at

Continue reading

Injunctions Against your Former Franchisee for Competing Against your New Franchisee: Korean Franchise Law/Injunction Basics

Under the Fair Franchise Transactions Act of Korea (“Franchise Act”), a franchisee has the right, under Korean Law, to request the renewal of a Korean franchise agreement after ten years of successful operation of a franchise.  The Korean Franchise Act Article 13 (2) stipulates that: “A franchisee’s right to request the renewal of the franchise agreement may be exercised only when the total period of the franchise agreement, including its initial period, does not exceed ten years.” We wrote about termination of a franchise in other articles including: Termination of a Franchise in Korea. Courts in Korea are becoming increasingly apprehensive to enforce injunctions against operating of competing businesses filed by franchisors against franchisees.  The situation, often, occurs where a franchise is terminated and the franchisee operates a like business in the same location as the prior franchise.   Of course, all professionally drafted franchise agreements in Korea will have

Continue reading

Involuntary Dissolution of a Company in Korea: Shareholder Disputes in Korean Companies

Under Article 520 of the Korean Commercial Act, a minority shareholder, holding at least 10 percent of the total and outstanding shares of a Korean company, may request to the Korean court of competent jurisdiction the dissolution of a company in Korea.  Korean court judges consider this procedure an extraordinary procedure and, only, rule in the affirmative, usually, after all other avenues to resolve the shareholder dispute have failed. However, this procedure is useful, in many disputes, in resolution of the shareholder dispute via litigation or pushing the defaulting shareholder into a settlement. Article 520 of the Commercial Act of Korea (Judgments for Dissolution) “(1) If, in any of the following cases, there exists unavoidable reasons, any shareholder who holds shares representing no less than 10 percent of the total issued and outstanding shares may request a court to dissolve the company; When the company’s business operation continues to be

Continue reading

Damages for Material Omissions in Franchise Disclosure Documents in South Korea

In April of 2015, the Supreme Court of Korea ruled that under Article 4; Article (9)(1); and Article 41(1) of the prior version of the Fair Transactions in Franchise Business Act (“Franchise Act”) damages may be obtained, from a franchisor, for all material omissions (Supreme Court 2014 DA 84824,84831, April 9, 2015) within Korean Franchise Disclosure Documents. Monetary damages may be obtained under Article 37(2) of the Franchise Act of Korea and Article 56(1) of the Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act of Korea for “material omissions” within Franchise Disclosure Documents and other document presented to prospective franchisees. The damages may include the cost of build-out, rental, franchise fees and even, in some cases, lost opportunity costs.  Additional, in some cases fines may be imposed, franchises can be de-registered and criminal charges may be brought against employees and management. The Fair Trade Commission may, additionally, impose a fine, even if

Continue reading

Can you Succeed in Korea without Resorting to Bribery?

Perhaps in a few warped ways, I have a bit of affection for the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars American companies from bribing officials overseas. From a nostalgic perspective, I recall when this act was made into law while I was at my first “real job” at The Chase Manhattan Bank in Seoul. The immediate reactions around me in the US business community were those of dread. We were certain that we would be put to disadvantage when competing with the locals as well as with other foreign nationalities. It turned out not to be the case. In fact, by and large we discovered the act gave us legitimate cover not to “go local” in conducting unethical and potentially sordid business practices. In time, other Western nations passed similar laws. While this clean business movement has hardly eradicated corruption, it has contributed to reducing unethical business behavior – most

Continue reading

Korea Blockchain Law Society Founded: Korean Crptocurrency Law Updates

The inaugural meeting of the Blockchain Law Society of Korea was held last week.  We wrote on the Korean Law Blog articles on Korean Blockchain/Alt Currency Law and shall be participating in the Blockchain Law Society and updating the reader on issues addressed by the Blockchain Law Society.  You shall find more articles on Blockchain, Alt currenices, Korean Crypto-currency Law and like topics on this blog over the next couple of months. We are looking forward to more lively discussions and hope that the Korean Blockchain Law society shall lead to a comprehensive Korean CryptoCurrency -Blockchain Law that does not lead to destruction of a unique and potentially profitable business opportunity for entrepreneurs in Korea and entrepreneurs that wish to invest in Korea.  We hope that foreign investors are, also, considered in these meetings and in the drafting of these laws.  Foreign investors play a key part in Korean business and locking

Continue reading

Civil Court Proceedings in Korean Courts: Korean Civil Litigation Basics

The following is a timetable-based outline of Korean Civil Court Proceedings at Korean Courts.  Please note, this is the typical civil court proceedings and exceptions do and, often, exist at Korean civil courts.  Korean civil courts are less procedure focused than U.S., British, German and other Western nations’ courts, thus, allowing more flexibility for judges and the parties. The proceedings at Korean courts of first instance is, typically, completed within one year from the filing the complaint to a district court and appeals to the High Court in Korea (court of second instance), typically, is completed with ten months of filing the appeal to the Korean High Court.  Appeals to the Korean Supreme Court may, sometimes, take multiple years to complete. We have excluded from this list proceedings within the Constitutional Court of Korea, Korean Family Courts, the Korean Administrative Courts, Patent Courts, Small Claims courts and other special courts. 

Continue reading

Korea’s Improper Solicitation and Graft Act: Kim Young-ran Act

The Improper Solicitation and Graft Act of Korea (“Graft Act”) was enacted on March of 2015 and came into effect in September of 2016.  Korea’s Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission published in English and Korea a decent Handbook to the Graft Act.  The Handbook may be found at: Handbook to Korea’s Graft Act.  All companies doing business in Korea should understand compliance basics and have an understanding of the myriad of compliance rules.  The Graft Act is, only, the tip of the iceberg.  We shall be focusing on Korean compliance basics over the next couple of months on this blog.  The Moon Administration and the Korean FTA have aggressively acted upon alleged malfeasance in Korean companies and this is a time to consider a compliance audit, redrafting of compliance policies and procedures and, potentially, your employment rules. Please check back to the Korean Law Blog.  We shall be writing over the

Continue reading

USA Today cites The Korean Law Blog and IPG Attorney Sean Hayes on Casino Gambling Law

An article in USA Today on Casino Gambling in Korea cites The Korean Law Blog and the main author of this blog on Casino Gambling in Korea.  The article may be found at:  South Korea wants to build casino industry where all are welcome but Koreans. The article notes, in part, that: “According to the Korea Center on Gambling Problems, which was established by the government in 2012, the prevalence of gambling addiction is two-to-three times higher in Korea than in other major countries. While it’s unclear how those statistics are compiled, the notion that Koreans are uniquely susceptible to gambling addiction is a widespread social theory that informs the laws surrounding the issue.” [ABTM id=1137] (c) Sean Hayes – SJ IPG. All Rights reserved.  Do not duplicate any content on this blog without the express written permission of the author. [email protected]

Continue reading

Digital Forensic Reviews at the Korean Fair Trade Commission

The Fair Trade Commission of Korea (“KFTC”) implemented in April 2018 rules governing the review of digital evidence in investigations of businesses at the KFTC.  The rules are entitled the Regulations on Collection, Analysis and Management of Digital Evidence (“Digital Forensic Evidence Review Rules”).  The rules have changed the manner of executing investigations at the KFTC in cases where the KFTC perceives a need for a detailed forensic audit. As of 2017, the KFTC has engaged in digital investigations via a division named the “Digital Investigation and Analysis Division.”  This Division hired technical computer staff that is assisting in investigations.  This Digital Investigation and Analysis Division has engaged in aggressive gathering of forensic evidence from companies. The key aspect of the Regulations on Collection, Analysis and Management of Digital Evidence is to put in place procedures for the handling, storage, collection, security, disposal and processing of digital evidence in order to increase

Continue reading