Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pyeongchang 2018 vs Sejong City 2010 ?

LEE Kun-hee received presidential pardon from LEE Myung-bak, officially to boost the chances of Pyeongchang in its bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The son of Samsung founder LEE Byung-chol, who helped turn the national champion into a global star, resigned as chairman during the investigations that led to his conviction earlier this year for embezzlement and tax evasion. Following the Olympic "tradition", LEE Kun-hee also had to put his IOC membership on hold. This pardon allows him to vote and lobby more efficiently for the Pyeongchang case.

Of course, should Pyeongchang win, many will wonder what kind of lobbying was involved. The very year he became an IOC member (1996), LEE had been convicted for bribing former presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo. He was (already!) pardoned the following year and that's one of the reasons why his 2009 sentence was considered rather kind : "only" 3-year prison + 5-year probation + KRW 110 bn.

Of course, Samsung is a top olympic sponsor and it helps : everybody remembers the 1996 Coca Cola Games in Atlanta... And everybody knows Sochi owes its olympic status to one powerful man : Vladimir Putin. But summing up Pyeongchang 2018* to the Samsung Olympics or the LEE Kun-hee Games would be unfair. The whole country has been behind the project for a very long while, and after Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, holding the games in Asia would make sense. The winning city will be declared in July 2011 and as much as 2018 rivals Annecy and Munich, Pyeongchang must watch competition from China for 2022.

Still, Pyeongchang looks like the perfect alibi for LEE Myung-bak who badly needed one to grant a second pardon to Korea's most powerful man. If the measure caused the usual popular indignation, it didn't really come as a surprise. And it probably didn't come for free either : rumors have it Samsung may be the chaebol recently evoqued as a major investor for the second-version-of-the-yet-to-be-built Sejong City**... both LEEs would then share each other's burden.

To make it more look like part of a grand scheme for Gangwon-do, the Government announced today a new Seoul-Chuncheon railway. After the Seoul-Chuncheon Expressway inaugurated last summer, an undisputable argument in favor of Pyeongchang 2018.

Seoul Village 2009

* official website :

** see "
Sejong City and the beauty of lameduckhood"

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