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Lee’s chief auditor nominee faces tough hearings

 Civil service marred by ethical problems

Chief state auditor nominee Chung Tong-ki faces tough questions at his parliamentary confirmation hearings about his political impartiality and his earnings at a law firm after resignation as a prosecutor.

President Lee Myung-bak last week nominated his former aide Chung as the new chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection.

Opposition legislators argue that the former senior presidential secretary is not fit for the chief state auditor’s job which requires professional independence and political neutrality.

While serving as the deputy prosecutor general at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, Chung cleared Lee of fraud allegations and suspicions over his shady real estate transactions ahead of the presidential elections in late 2007.

The opposition is zeroing in on whether Chung, as Lee’s top aide for civil affairs for about a year from June 2008, was involved in the government’s alleged illegal surveillance on civilians and lobbying for the chief executive of a shipbuilding company.

Main opposition Democratic Party leader Sohn Hak-kyu on Friday urged Lee to call off his request for parliamentary approval of his nomination of Chung.

“Chung greatly affected the last presidential elections by saying Lee was not involved in the BBK financial scam and, as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, led the political retaliation through prosecutorial probes that resulted in former president Roh Moo-hyun’s death,” Sohn said in a meeting of the DP’s supreme council.
Chung Tong-ki
Chung Tong-ki

“It is the DP’s position that such a person cannot be named chairman of the BAI, whose neutrality and independence must be respected.”

DP floor leader Park Jie-won on Friday said the nomination of Chung contradicts the Lee administration’s “fair society” campaign, demanding Chung to withdraw.

“The Lee administration does not deserve to call for a fair society if it says the privileges granted to Chung for his former post aren’t a big deal,” Park said in a DP meeting to prepare for the confirmation hearings, referring to the fat paychecks Chung got from a law firm immediately after leaving the prosecution.

Chung received 699.4 million won ($622,000) in seven months from a law firm that he joined six days after quitting the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in November 2007.

His law firm salary more than doubled after he began to concurrently serve in the presidential transition team of then president-elect Lee from December 2007.

Chung’s wealth surged from 968.4 million won in February 2006 to 1.37 billion won in March 2007 and jumped to 2.12 billion won in August 2008, according to the documents he submitted to the National Assembly.

The presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae didn’t expect the high salaries would be a major problem as Chung didn’t earn them illegally.

“The law firm gave him the treatment that other former prosecutors get in the private sector, and he paid some 300 million won in taxes for the income he earned,” a Cheong Wa Dae official said.

Ruling and opposition parties agreed to hold the parliamentary confirmation hearings for culture minister nominee Choung Byoung-gug on Jan. 17, knowledge economy minister nominee Choi Joong-kyung on Jan. 18 and Chung on Jan. 19 and 20.

Choi is suspected of property speculation for a plot his wife and father-in-law purchased in Daejeon in 1988 just before the government began restricting real estate transactions in the area to crack down on speculation. They sold the land two years later for a price 15 times higher than what they had paid.

By Kim So-hyun (