The nominee for prime minister, former star prosecutor Ahn Dae-hee, offered an apology on Monday for causing public concern over his high income reported last year.
“I apologize to the people for causing concerns about my high income and special grants being raised after I was nominated for prime minister,” Ahn said at a press conference held at the government complex in Seoul.
Ahn vowed to return to society the 1.1 billion won that he earned as a lawyer over a year, in a show of his determination to eradicate corruption and establish discipline.
“The reform will start with me,” he said.
Ahn’s remarks came amid growing disputes over a sharp rise in Ahn’s income, with some speculating that he was able to make so much money in such a short period of time because he was granted special treatment by his former colleagues.
He opened a legal office in Seoul last July, a year after he retired as a Supreme Court judge. He was reported to have earned about 1.6 billion won ($1.56 million) between July and December last year through legal consultation and cases he worked on.
Despite his apology, Ahn is likely to face tough questioning in his National Assembly hearing over his income last year.
Cheong Wa Dae said it would submit a bill to seek approval from the National Assembly regarding the appointment of Ahn as prime minister.
President Park Geun-hye’s nomination of Ahn was widely seen as a safe choice, as he has been hailed as a “people’s prosecutor.” The nominee was a senior prosecutor who led investigations into high-profile corruption cases involving presidential aides in 2003 and had built up a reputation of defying political pressure to bring political heavyweights to justice.
Ahn was expected to succeed in presenting himself as a man of integrity, as he had been known to have lived a humble life. He had no trouble getting parliamentary approval in 2003, when he was named to serve as a judge in the country’s top court.
But speculation has grown over a sharp increase in Ahn’s income last year. He is likely to face a barrage of criticism and harsh questions from opposition lawmakers about how he was able to draw such a large income in just five months. The lawmakers are expected to grill him over whether he had benefited from “jeon-gwan-ye-u,” a practice that gives preferential treatment to retired officials. The practice is widespread in Korea, especially among prosecutors and judges.
Opposition lawmakers are also likely to cast doubts on his anticipated role of leading Park’s reform measures aimed at rooting out corruption in public offices, and to attack him for having enjoyed similar favors. Skeptics have also raised a fresh allegation that he had “inappropriately” defended a company in a corporate tax lawsuit while he was serving as the head of a tax investigation committee under the National Tax Service.
Rep. Kim Han-gil, cochairman of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, urged President Park to reconsider Ahn’s nomination, saying it would aggravate the people’s anger.
“The nation is grieving over children who died for taking a ferry instead of a plane to save money,” he said. “It seems wrong to have a new P.M. nominee who made 1.6 billion won in five months, or 10 million won a day, at this difficult time.”
The ruling Saenuri Party countered the opposition’s claim, criticizing them for making suggestive remarks over the nominee.
“The opposition party is focusing on raising suggestive speculations. ... Doubts will be cleared through a thorough screening process at the hearing,” the party said in a statement, adding that the opposition was taking an entirely different attitude toward Ahn who it once praised as a corruption fighter.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)