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Opposition to grill top auditor-nominee

The main opposition Democratic Party has vowed to grill the nominee for Board of Audit and Inspection chairman over his “unusually rapid” accumulation of wealth at the parliamentary confirmation hearing slated for Jan. 19-20.

DP lawmakers are also urging President Lee Myung-bak to withdraw the nomination of former prosecutor Chung Tong-ki for the position.

Their indignant stance, taken on Sunday, is expected to ignite another “battle” between the ruling and opposition parties following a slew of clashes over the budget bill late last year.

According to the BAI’s report to the National Assembly, Chung, who worked on the presidential transition team for Lee, received 699.4 million won ($625,000) from a law firm over a period of less than seven months from 2007 to 2008. Chung’s wealth rose from 1.37 billion won to 2.12 billion won in August 2008 after he was chosen to work for Lee’s transition team. 
Chung Tong-ki
Chung Tong-ki

The long-standing and inappropriate practice of law firms scouting former prosecutors or judges to host lucrative endorsements appears to have resulted in Chung’s growing wealth, observers said. They added that former high-ranking prosecutors or senior judges could have a huge influence on their incumbent juniors.

In fact, Chung’s firm has taken over high-profile cases.

DP floor leader Park Jie-won said Chung appears to have wrongfully taken advantage of his power and connections to receive an excessively high salary from the law firm. DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu said Chung’s nomination is disrespectful to the public.

Chung remained unperturbed by the accusation.

“I have received about 699 million won from the law firm and paid about 300 million won as tax,” he said on Friday.

“The amount sounds a bit larger than ordinary salaried workers but there was nothing illegal about it.”

The BAI on Saturday distributed a press release saying Chung has paid 229 million won as tax and was paid back 10 million won later.

The ruling Grand National Party, reportedly shaken by Chung’s high salary and the possible political damage it could cause, ostensibly stood for Chung. It has appointed four former prosecutors as questioners for the confirmation hearing.

“We will have to look into the case prudently but being paid a lot of money for one’s work is nothing wrong,” Rep. Na Kyung-won of the GNP said in a radio interview.

The former judge said she doubts whether there was a connection between Chung’s career as a senior prosecutor and his successful post-retirement life.

“On the contrary, I don’t find the opposition parties’ hassle over the case appropriate at all,” she said.

Cheong Wa Dae also defended Chung’s nomination, saying that it has thoroughly screened his qualifications and checked for any irregularities in his wealth, even by holding a mock hearing.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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