South Koreans donate their gold to dent IMF debt |
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Park Joong-hung set the two gold medals he earned during his 20 years at Samsung Corp. on a desk in a conference room at the company's posh headquarters.
A moment later, a gold expert examined them, weighed them and handed him a receipt: ''Two gold medals, 56.3 grams (1.97 ounces).''
The medals' market value in South Korea - $400 - is a minuscule dent in the $57 billion Park's nation owes the International Monetary Fund for bailing out the collapsing economy. But Park, a 49-year-old executive, is not alone in responding to the campaign launched today by state-run TV to collect gold to help repay the debt.
About 100 Samsung employees wearing yellow ribbons that said ''Let's overcome the foreign currency crisis by collecting gold'' stood in line in front of the collection desk, gold rings, bracelets and other glittering personal items in hand. Samsung estimated the export value of the gold collected from its employees today at $418,000.
''The medals are very meaningful to me,'' said Park, who received them as rewards for his service to a trading arm of the Samsung group, one of South Korea's largest conglomerates. ''But it is time of a national crisis. We all should help in some way.''
Another Samsung employee, Lee Sang-hwa, 28, brought his mother's gold ring. ''I support the spirit of the campaign, and my mother was happy to help,'' Lee said.
The gold campaign began after a television station reported last week that individual Koreans are believed to have about 2,000 tons of gold worth $20 billion, or about one-third of the IMF's bailout fund.
People can either donate their gold or sell it to exporters at less-than-market prices. They would be paid within a month, and the gold would be made into bars and exported. Fifty gold experts volunteered to help with the collection.
South Korea imports tons of gold every year. Gold trinkets and gifts commonly are exchanged on birthdays, wedding anniversaries and other important milestones. Wealthy Koreans often collect gold in bars or in shapes of cow and other animals.
In announcing the campaign, state KBS-TV and its cosponsor, Korea Housing Bank, appealed to people to save the nation with patriotism.
The campaign immediately received warm and widespread support. Twenty-three civic organizations announced their participation; Consumer, religious, environmental and womens' groups were urging people to bring in their gold.
Kim Young-ja, who sells blouses and skirts at the Namdaemun Market in downtown Seoul, said she would bring in her gold rings next week.
''Ever since the idea came out, merchants here have often talked about it. We all agree it's time to do something for the nation,'' said Kim, 55.
Other merchants near her nodded their approval.
Koreans have begun to compare the effort with a similar movement 90 years ago to pay back huge debts their country owed to Japan, then its colonial ruler. The 1907 campaign was started by about a dozen civilian leaders and received nationwide support. People donated money, gold and other jewelry worth one-sixth of the total debt.