South Korea’s gold collection campaign draws public support

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Answering a call to help their country, tens of thousands of South Koreans swarmed into banks Tuesday to sell or donate gold in a nationwide campaign to raise badly needed dollars.
The monthlong campaign, launched by a bank and state-run TV, is intended to help South Korea repay $57 billion owed to the International Monetary Fund in emergency rescue funds.
For weeks, South Koreans have been collecting spare change and turning in their foreign currency. Last week, state TV reported that Koreans privately hold an estimated 2,000 tons of gold worth $20 billion: Workers rallied to collect jewelry and other items, and the gold drive quickly spread.
On Monday, more than 45,000 people turned in 7,300 pounds of gold worth a total of $33 million. Enthusiasm grew Tuesday, with 88,500 people selling or donating 15,044 pounds.
Many private companies, including Samsung, Daewoo and Shinsegae Department Store chain, also joined in the campaign, collecting 264 pounds of gold worth $1.2 million so far.
South Korea, which boomed in the 1980s and ’90s to become the world’s 11th largest economy, has fallen into financial crisis — with blame centered on heavily indebted businesses.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been put out of work. Share prices have tumbled, along with the value of the Korean won. In exchange for the IMF’s record bailout package, South Korea has ordered tough remedies.
People selling their gold to exporters, at less-than-market prices, are to be paid within a month. The gold is being melted into bars and then sold abroad. Gold donations also were welcome, but only a tiny portion of Monday’s haul — 8.8 pounds — was given freely.
“We are really surprised at the huge public support. It is a lot more than we expected,” said Cho Shin-keun, an official in charge of the campaign at Korea Housing and Commercial Bank.
The campaign will continue until the end of January. Bank officials said they won’t release any more figures on the amounts being collected, for fear of affecting international gold markets.
The news of the success of the Korean campaign already was being credited for a drop in international gold prices. In London, gold closed Tuesday at $282 per ounce, down from $283.20. In Hong Kong, gold fell $6.70 to $281.55.