On December 31, 2018, Lee Gang-hyun, the ex-president of the Emergency Measures Committee (EMC), confessed on the Hanyang University (HYU) Student Union (SU) Facebook Page for embezzling a total of 4,638,150 won from the SU̓s fund (1,055,000 won from the HYU’s annual festival profit and 3,583,150 won from the SU’s account). In his official apology, he mentioned that no other student members were related to this embezzlement. And that he would accept any punishment from any association and pay back the money that he owes during the winter break. The HYU Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) has finished an investigation that they found out Lee Gang-hyun embezzled 371,000 won more, and the Central Steering Committee (CSC) has stepped into the process by pushing for prosecution in the criminal court, even though Lee restored all the money back in the account later when the investigation was finished. Through this incident, students were able to recognize a loophole for several student-led organizations and thus demanded appropriate changes.
HYU Students’ Stance
Due to low voter turnout, the President of the SU has not been elected for nearly two years, and the EMC has been established eventually. The official statistics released by the Election Commission estimated that the voter turnout for 2018 was 42.94 percent. Looking at the EMC’s work last year, they received a positive evaluation from the students about the Misaeng Scholarship, midnight snack distribution service, and especially the festival held in the spring and fall. However, despite these achievements, the SU was losing its approval rating in the meantime. Song Seung-un, a Senior in the Department of Philosophy explained: “I think that the SU lost students’ support because they were unable to present themselves well, justify exactly what they did, or show effectively using social media what they could promise to do for the students. But above all, I think that the SU lost students’ support mainly because of how opinionated they were before. They would take a certain side in a conflict situation. While I believe that as the SU, it’s more important for them to keep a neutral position.”
The biggest difference between the EMC and the SU is that the SU presidential candidates announce their election pledges in advance. If there are at least two candidates, they debate against each other and are voted in by the students. However, the EMC members are randomly selected among the department representatives voted in for the upcoming semester without going through formal voting processes. Therefore, many worry that further development for the EMC will have limited legitimacy.
HYU Board of Audit and Inspection’s Stance
On January 18, 2019, the HYU Board finished their investigation and posted the final report on the SU’s official Facebook page regarding Lee Gang-hyun’s embezzlement. In the final report, it states he embezzled a total of 5,009,150 won. Among four accounts; sponsorship, plotter, joint purchase, and the SU account, three accounts got embezzled; 275,000 won from sponsorship, 416,000 won from the plotter, and 1,842,000 won from the SU account. Plus, he embezzled 1,151,000 won in cash. Lee was randomly elected by the representatives of departments in the CSC conference on June 18, 2018, and he went to a school camp with the EMC members on August 2018, collected 371,000 won from 53 people in the bus as a participation fee, which is 7,000 won each and paid 406,300 won for the camp with the SU account. However, the BAI only considered 371,000 won as embezzlement, not 406,300 won that he paid with the SU account. Therefore, unlike the apology letter he announced on Facebook, he additionally embezzled 371,000 won, money since August last year. 7,980,366 won was deposited in the SU account from HYU, which is estimated to be SU fee from 798 students. The Committee’s money was completely managed by Lee. Although the SU’s protocol mentions that bank accounts should be managed by the Student Welfare Committee, he possessed both the committee’s credit card and bank accounts. He used the account so that he could avoid the security system that alarms by sending a message when the SU’s card is used by someone. He even tried to manipulate the 10 won unit to avoid the eyes of the BAI. He could not help but embezzle the money because he had to use it for his monthly rent, living expenses, and debt for school expenses. He currently solved the monthly rent problem but is still unsolved with his school debt. The BAI proposed some problems that the next EMC should look for solutions in order to prevent this tragedy again; the 400,000 won missing in the SU room, the absence of ledger for cash during the festival, and the absence of the BAI even though it was expected to exist after the shocking embezzlement of 400 million won by the SU in 2008. Yet, some frustration remains as the BAI didn’t post the photographs of the detailed statement of his Toss bank account, missed four or five receipts, and didn’t clarify whether the collected receipts were true or not.
When trying to figure out how such incidents can be prevented, HYU can refer to cases from other universities. For example, Incheon University seems to be well prepared for detailed regulations of the audit. They say that they need to audit every semester, to use a card only, and to give punishments by following orders. On May 2016, the SU president of Gangneung-Wonju National University embezzled 20 million won, got arrested, and was sentenced to fine ten million won in March 2017.
Specialized Institutions’ Stance
On March 9, 2015, the Ministry of Education (MOE) sent official documents to all universities about the need not to mislead freshmen in the paying of student union fees, the problems related to the student fee prepayment, and the need for integrity when managing the union accounts. Also, the MOE requested universities to regularly investigate where and how the fees are being used.
The BAI of Korea was questioned about whether or not they provided educational services. To this, the Education Center’s representative replied that they do not provide any educational service for university students as of yet and that their education program is only available for public officials and institutions.
Rest of the Problems that Must be Fixed
In conclusion, the poor environmental factors of Lee Gang-hyun triggered this tragedy, and the absence of the BAI was shocking news as their absence could have contributed this case to happen. The loopholes that existed within how these student-run committees were operated must change immediately. But it is also important to acknowledge the need in changing the indifferent attitudes of the HYU students towards the SU.