By Choi Sung-jin
If one person's meat is another's poison, the implementation of the strict anti-corruption law Friday might well result in countless situations of that type.
The law, which bans buying meals priced more than 30,000 won ($27) or giving presents worth more than 50,000 won to public officials, may likely destroy the business of most luxury restaurants and department stores, but will offer new opportunities for Korean paparazzi who report violators with photo evidence.
Paparazzi, a term originating from a character in an Italian film, refer to independent photographers who take pictures of athletes, entertainers, politicians, and other public figures who are going about their usual day-to-day activities.
In Korea, however, their main targets are not celebrities but ordinary lawbreakers, ranging from tax dodgers and other financial criminals to minor offenders, such as traffic violators, smokers in no-smoking zones and people who litter, for which they receive rewards. People regard them as bounty hunters but paparazzi think of themselves as whistleblowers.
Already, some special academies training paparazzi are full of students, or would-be "ranparazzi" _ with the prefix coming from the last syllable of the name of Kim Young-ran, the former Supreme Court justice who drafted the anti-graft law years ago.
At one such academy on a recent evening, a lecturer, identified by just his family name of Yun, said, "If you want to be a good paparazzi, you should be ready to report all scofflaws, including poor people and even your uncles and fathers ‘as long as the government pays you money for it.'"
Yun then told of a tale of his heroism. "Once I checked into a provincial motel paying the bill with cash and ordered a coffee from a nearby tearoom. When the delivery woman (prostitute) was taking a shower, I reported the motel as a tax dodger and the tearoom as a pimp and earned 1 million and 2 million, respectively, from the two reports. Since I paid 250,000 won for the motel bill and coffee, I netted 2.75 million won," he said.
More experienced paparazzi refer to the above as low-grade jobs, the "3D of the paparazzi world." "In my case, I would visit a cosmetic surgeon or an expensive furniture store and propose to pay in cash in return for some discounts. If the surgeon or the owner accepts the proposal, takes the money and gives me a discount, I report them as tax dodgers," he said.
When the students finish these classes and begin to practice what they have learned, the first thing they should get is equipment _ cameras, recorders and bugging devices of all sizes and levels with some of them fitting in with equipment to make espionage films, priced up to several million won each.
Even more important than these state-of-the-art devices are acting skills. "When you want to hit an illegal marriage broker, you should be able to act as if you are an old bachelor farmer with an aged mother to support," Yun said.
Experienced paparazzi, or the "1 percenters," reportedly earn 3 million won or more a month but many among the other 99 percent make less than part-timers at convenience stores. "At times, we have to stake out a place for days and weeks to catch a violator, spending money on gas and meals," he said. Most paparazzi are struggling with some of them committing suicide.
There is also popular criticism about the problems of the report-and-reward system, which cannot prevent large-scale crimes but focus on petty and minor misdemeanors, leading to wasted efforts by administrators. "You may seize a number of people who steal a pin while failing to stop those who steal an ox," said an official wanting to remain anonymous.
It is beyond the ability of most paparazzi to grasp what's going on inside large government offices and big business corporations, which cannot be revealed without cooperation from inside whistleblowers.
"By most appearances, the existence of paparazzi reflects the sad reality of this society in which one weak and poor group preys on others in the same meager circumstances," the official said.