Old habits die hard in South Korea. Since the early 1980s, numerous politicians and businesspeople have been punished for bribery. Businesspeople paid huge amounts to politicians for favours or to win government contracts. Two presidents have been jailed for taking bribes, as were the sons of two other presidents. Yet bribery scandals continue to surface. The latest involves both the ruling and opposition parties. Top chaebol (conglomerates) allegedly paid tens of millions of dollars to political parties around the time of the presidential elections last December. Several people have been arrested. Several more are likely to face the same fate. The scandal even prompted President Roh Moo-hyun to call for a confidence vote. It is incredible that South Korean companies continue to make illegal contributions to politicians, even after the 1997-1998 financial crisis that supposedly led to a clearout of bad practices. Accounting frauds have been busted and management transparency increased through various legal and systematic changes. At least that was what most people believed - until the latest scandal broke. In the old days, tycoons routinely maintained large slush funds. Kickbacks were given to politicians and bureaucrats for awarding their companies lucrative projects. The practice was rife in government construction. Business leaders claimed they had no choice, as everyone was at it. And no backhanders meant they faced blatant discrimination in regular business activities, they argued. But things have changed. Government contracts are no longer decided by the size of the bribe. Rather, a more fair and transparent system has been installed to allow the most-competitive bidder to win the contract. So why do businesspeople still pay politicians astronomical sums? The only explanation can be that they feel insecure if they do not. From economic policymaking to regulating business activities, politicians and bureaucrats wield too much power. The government is still oriented towards interference and politicians are too often regulation-minded. And politicians continue to need money under the expensive election system. The actual cost of elections far exceeds the legal limits of campaign funds, leading politicians to seek illegal money. Large outdoor rallies are quite common and can add considerably to the bill, while campaign materials can prove costly, too. Many politicians are vulnerable to the temptation of money after they are elected - because they want to cling to power as long as possible. And even after they retire, they want to control state matters from behind the scenes, as political godfathers. This so-called boss politics requires money to buy influence. Former president Chun Doo-hwan, who was sentenced to death - commuted to life in prison - for bribery and subversion, still owes the government US$150 million of the US$180 million penalty imposed. While in office, he took huge amounts of money from businesses and was ordered by the courts to pay it back. He now claims that he made only US$300 a month, despite the fact that he took frequent golfing sojourns and overseas trips with his friends and associates. Prosecutors have also unveiled a secret fund, containing millions of dollars, allegedly held by Chun's son, Chun Jae-yong. Recently, the courts put Chun's personal effects - including his precious golf clubs and even his pet dog - under the hammer to try to recoup some of the money. Sometimes, money politics can end in a sad and cruel fashion.