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Prosecutors set to summon Kwak

Seoul education chief uspected of bribing former election rival


Seoul’s education chief Kwak No-hyun may face subpoena as early as Wednesday in an intensifying probe into allegations that he bought a rival candidate out of race during last year’s election, sources at the prosecution said Tuesday.

The Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office, which leads the investigation, detained for questioning a confidant of Kwak who, on his behalf, delivered 200 million won to Park Myoung-gee, the departing candidate.

Kwak, superintendent of Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, on Sunday admitted to having paid Park, but insisted that it was purely out of goodwill and was in no way linked to his last-minute withdrawal of candidacy for Seoul education chief.

Park, professor of Seoul National University of Education currently under arrest, withdrew about two weeks before the June 2 election, leaving Kwak the sole candidate representing liberal opposition. His drop out of the race ultimately made it possible for him to win the vote against six conservative candidates.

Prosecutors are trying to verify that the 200 million won was payment in breach of election rules, while tracking the source of the money.

Kwak, a former law professor, has made it clear that he would fight to clear his name while keeping his post.

Calls were mounting for him to resign. Even his liberal allies were turning their back on him. Refusing to give in to the pressure, the embattled education reformer kept to his usual schedule Tuesday.

Prosecutors allege that Kwak and Park had a verbal agreement on monetary compensation totaling 700 million won before Park announced his withdrawal in support of Kwak.

However, a senior civic activist who was involved in the unification process of liberal candidates claimed that Park demanded that he be compensated for his spending on election campaign until his retraction of candidacy.

The two sides met on May 17, two days before Park announced his withdrawal, where Kwak flatly rejected Park’s demand for 700 million won in cash rewards, Rev. Lee Hae-joon said on a radio program.

“At least to me, Kwak appeared firmly against it. He said such a deal should and would never take place,” he said.

The reverend said he had no good knowledge of what happened during the two-day interval between the May 17 meeting and Park’s May 19 withdrawal.

Kwak, since taking office last July, has pushed for a series of left-leaning reforms, often clashing with the conservative municipal and central governments.

Just last week, he won a key ballot battle with Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon and the ruling Grand National Party over how far to expand free school meals. Kwak pushed for a program to provide free lunches to all elementary and middle school students, while Oh and the GNP insisted on giving them only to children from low-income families.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)
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