Kim Neung-hwan, former Supreme Court justice and chairman of the National Election Commission, works at a checkout counter of his wife’s convenience store in Dongjak-gu, Seoul Wednesday. (Yonhap News)
A mom-and-pop store is hardly a place where people would expect to see a person who once served in the highest court and headed the national election watchdog. Especially in a nation where high-ranking officials usually chase career paths promising prominent status, influence and hefty financial rewards.
Kim Neung-hwan, a former Supreme Court justice and former chairman of the National Election Commission of Korea, who works at a convenience store owned by his wife, has come under the spotlight for his humble retirement in stark contrast with most of his peers.
“I am here as a part-timer at my wife’s store. My dream is leading a happy life with my family with the store faring well,” he explained.
Well known for his integrity, Kim made headlines when he declined an offer from President Park Geun-hye for the post of prime minister earlier this year.
He reportedly said it was not appropriate for a Supreme Court justice to take a post in the Cabinet.
Many high profile officials choose to work for private law firms or conglomerates after retirement, which promise a large sum of money. This is despite public officials ethics laws that prohibit high-rank public officials from working at private firms in a related sector for two years after retirement to prevent influence peddling and illegal lobbying.
Almost one out of five public officials worked for firms in a field related to their past career within the two years, according to a 2013 report of the Government Public Ethic Committee.
Kim owns around 900 million won in property, including his apartment, which was the second lowest among Supreme Court justices last year.
“With your relentless efforts and contributions, I have been able to come up all the way to here. If there is improvement made at the NEC, it will be attributed to your concerted efforts,” said Kim at his retirement event Tuesday, completing his 33-year public career.
“I will lead the life of an ordinary citizen helping my wife who runs a convenience store.”
Kim also gained respect for helping junior officials embroiled in trouble.
He paid the legal fees from his own pocket for one of his officials at the NEC, who was involved in a lawsuit for neglect of duty after the DDoS attacks on the committee’s website in 2011.
Kim’s moves send a message to society, especially to those with great power, about what is really important in life.
By Kim Young-won (email@example.com