By Lee Sun-young
Kwak No-hyun, Seoul’s education chief embroiled in an election corruption scandal, said Thursday he would keep his post, resisting mounting calls for him to resign.
Kwak, elected last June as superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, is accused of bribing a fellow progressive out of the race in order to make himself a single, unified candidate representing the liberal opposition.
“I have spoken the whole truth,” Kwak said in his address to officials at the education body.
“I will continue carrying out my duty as the superintendent but with a greater sense of responsibility and prudence.”
Kwak, a former law professor, admitted last week to offering Park Myoung-gee, professor of Seoul National University of Education, a total of 200 million won, but insisted that it was a token of pure goodwill, not a bribe.
The remarks came as Seoul prosecutors stepped up an investigation into his actions, summoning one person after another from his inner circle, including a former camp manager.
Investigators at the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office questioned Kwak’s wife for 11 hours until early Thursday morning, digging into the source of the 200 million won ($188,000) that Kwak said he had given to Park.
The prosecutors suspect that the money was part of the monetary compensation that Kwak’s camp had promised to Park in return for his withdrawal of candidacy and that a portion of that money may have come from donations from his supporters.
Kwak’s wife, a medical doctor, however, denied the suspicion, insisting that the money was from her and her sister.
The prosecutors allege that Kwak and Park reached an agreement on compensation totaling 700 million won, but Park ended up getting just 200 million won.
Former key members of Kwak’s campaign office held a press conference Thursday, saying that Park had initially asked for 1 billion won but lowered the amount to 700 million won after Kwak refused his demand.
The two sides failed to strike a deal because Kwak rejected such compensation request itself, they said.
Earlier, a local newspaper, citing an unnamed source, reported that a staff member of Kwak’s camp had promised financial support for Park verbally to his aide.
The staff worker was in charge of campaign bookkeeping and is related to the Park’s aide by marriage, the source said.
He was not authorized to make such promise and did not even report it to Kwak and other campaign staff afterwards, the Hankook Ilbo reported. Kwak learned about it about three months after he won the election, it said.
“Park continuously demanded payment on the grounds of the documents he produced from the deal between his and Kwak’s aides. Kwak has once considered accusing him of blackmailing,” the paper quoted the source as saying.
Meanwhile, the government and the ruling Grand National Party have agreed to push for a revision of superintendent election rules to adopt a new system in which a candidate for provincial governor or mayor would form a joint camp with a superintendent candidate, officials said Thursday.
The envisioned measure differs from the typical running mate system in the sense that it does not allow those running for governor or mayor to name their choice for education chief.
According to GNP officials, the two candidates would be on an equal footing, jointly campaigning for their respective victories.
Still, liberal opponents worry that it would undermine political neutrality of educators. By law, education administers and teachers are banned from joining political parties.
The proposed system, if endorsed by the parliament, could be applied to elections in April next year in Sejong city to pick a mayor and an education superintendent, GNP officials said.