Compliance by death

Global Suicide Rate Map from Business Insider
Global Suicide Rate Map from Business Insider

South Korea has a very high suicide rate. It is second only to Lithuania. (Temporarily Greenland unseated Lithuania with the highest per capita suicide rate, but traditionally it has been Lithuania and South Korea.) South Korea’s suicide rate is more than double the rate in the United States. South Korean culture put a high price on one’s reputation. Once tarnished, the chance of recovery is slim. The work around is death. Forget about wrongdoing, death is the ultimate sacrifice one is willing to make to save his/her family from shame and is traditionally a sign of innocence. Innocence because only the innocent would find it unbearable to subject innocent family members to a tarnished reputation.

A construction executive, Sung Wanjung, had created a “bribery list.” As it sounds, it is a list of bribes he would pay to make his business more successful. He had accidentally left a printed copy of it somewhere and it was discovered. On the list were many of the President’s advisers and aides. The executive was on trial and facing imprisonment. Prison’s in South Korea are not nearly as nice as those in the States. So, he killed himself.

As the story implies, he killed himself out of guilt, not out of innocence. This has been the theme of suicides among politicians and the people in their circles. Former president of South Korea, Roh Moohyun, also killed himself when he was charged with taking bribes and embezzling. He was mourned. But right up until the news of his suicide was reported, most Koreans believed him to be guilty. Even if he was cleared of any wrongdoing, the Korean culture would have made him an outcast.

In South Korea, compliance, it seems, would have to take an extra care to prevent crimes from growing so that the result isn’t suicide.

Jang Jayeon

To prove that innocent suicides are common, or as common as they can be among suicides, a string of entertainers have killed themselves over the past twenty years due to pressures put on them by their management companies. It often happens when expectations for their success gets too high. One rising actress, Jang Jayeon, killed herself because the price she had to continue paying to get roles. She had to sleep with directors and financial backers to keep getting roles. She was a good actress, but with such fierce competition, she found the only way to get roles was to use her body. Victims of other crimes is what often leads to crime-inducing suicide, or, in the case of Jang, directly to suicide.

Sung’s death cannot be compared to Jang’s. Jang was a victim of systemic prostitution. Sung’s was likely a victim of his own guilt.


One bit of business: I’m actively seeking contributors. If you or someone you know is a professional with at least ten years of experience in financial services with knowledge or opinions about regulation, I would like to invite you to be a guest author.

About the Author: Marcus Maltempo is a compliance professional with more than a decade of experience helping banks, law firms and clients manage investigations and regulatory responses.


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