Ahn Cheol-soo apologized for tax-dodging by his wife related to a real estate contract in an effort to contain a burgeoning scandal at odds with his pledges to tackle tax evasion.
The presidential candidate nevertheless came to face the public’s growing suspicion that some other financial irregularity allegations against him may also be true.
A local online newspaper reported on Wednesday that Kim Mi-kyung, Ahn’s wife and a medical professor at Seoul National University, misrepresented the purchasing price of her apartment in 2001.
In the contract, Kim underpriced the 450 million won ($402,000) apartment at 250 million won, thus reducing the acquisition and registration taxes by up to 10 million won.
This practice, referred to as down contract, is an expedient often adopted by real estate purchasers to dodge tax-paying duties.
It is also a practice that frequently corners public official nominees during their confirmation hearings.
Though he claimed that he did not know about the details of the purchase, Ahn immediately offered his apology.
Independent presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo apologizes Thursday over allegations his wife evaded taxes by under-reporting the price of an apartment she bought in 2001. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
“Regardless of the reason, (the down contract) was wrong and for this, I apologize to the people,” Ahn told reporters on Wednesday.
“As presidential candidate, I shall behave more cautiously in the future.“
Ahn is also faced with other allegations, such as one that he made illicit profits through fraudulent transactions of shares of his computer virus developer AhnLab.
The independent candidate has so far displayed an uncompromising stance on monetary irregularities, including tax dodging. The rookie politician gained a wide range of support from young and liberal voters with a seemingly untainted and upright image.
“Those who turn out to have evaded taxes should be punished severely to set an example to the public,” he said through his book earlier this year.
The ruling Saenuri Party seized the chance to attack the liberal contestant.
“The case is inconsistent with Ahn’s so-called transparency campaigns,” said the party’s communications team member Rep. Park Dae-chul in a radio interview.
The Korea Taxpayers’ Association, however, claimed that Kim’s down contract was in accordance to the trade customs and thus not against the law.
“Down contracts in real estate trades were almost inevitable in 1996-2005 due to the flaws in the local tax law,” the KTA said through a statement on Thursday.
“(The political circles and the media) should refrain from launching irrational political offensives.”
Amid ongoing disputes, the former software guru still has an upper hand in polls over right-wing candidate Rep. Park Geun-hye.
In a survey conducted by pollster Mono Research on Wednesday upon 1,320 respondents, Ahn defeated Park in a hypothetical two-way race against Park, with 48.3 percent over 43 percent.
By Bae Hyun-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org