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Koh keeps candidacy despite daughter’s open criticism

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Published : 2014-06-01 20:48
Updated : 2014-06-01 21:39

Just a day after his daughter publicly spoke out against his candidacy, leading Seoul education chief candidate Koh Seung-duk argued on Sunday that the POSCO family, in which his ex-wife is a member, and his rival Moon Yong-rin are using his daughter politically.

“My ex-wife and I had different ideas about how to raise our children. I wanted to raise them in Korea, while she wanted to raise them in the U.S. as U.S. citizens,” Koh said at a press conference in Seoul, in response to his daughter’s open criticism for “never partaking in the education of his own children.”

“She didn’t teach the Korean alphabet even after my second child started attending elementary school. In 1998, she all of the sudden took the children to the U.S., saying she would raise them. That’s how we were separated. I am sure the children were hurt by the event. And I, too, was saddened by what happened, as a father whose custody of his children was taken away by his ex-wife, who happened to be a member of a powerful and wealthy family.”
Seoul education chief candidate Koh Seung-duk speaks during a press conference on Sunday. (Yonhap)

Koh’s daughter, Candy ― whose Korean name is Hee-kyung ― posted a lengthy Facebook message on Saturday, claiming her father is not qualified to be Seoul’s education chief as he never participated in raising her and her brother.

Candy, 27, and her younger brother, have been living without their father in the U.S. since 1998. Both of them are U.S. citizens. Their mother officially divorced Koh in 2002.

“I was still only 11 years old when I had to get used to a life without a father.… Despite the existence of a telephone and Internet, Koh never called me or my brother to ask how we were doing,” Candy wrote in her post addressed to Seoul residents.

“Asking for a call or gifts on our birthday was not even in the scope of our imagination because he did not acknowledge his own children’s existence. Of course he never supported our education in any way, including financially.”

In response to Candy’s accusations, Koh shared the KakaoTalk conversation he had with her on May 28, two days before Candy posted her Facebook post.

Candy’s mother, Park Yoo-ah, is the daughter of the late Park Tae-joon (1927-2011), the founder of POSCO ― one of the largest steelmakers in the world. After divorcing Park, Koh married Lee Moo-kyung, a former newspaper reporter 10 years his junior, in 2004. Koh and Lee don’t have children together.

The lawyer and ex-lawmaker also said he hasn’t visited the U.S. since 1992, except a trip to Hawaii in 2010, because he was disheartened about not being able to see the children. He also accused his rival candidate Moon of using his daughter for political reasons.

“(Although that is what my daughter is claiming) It is not true that I never spoke with my children since my ex-wife and I were separated,” he said.

“I spoke to my daughter just a few days ago via KakaoTalk, and I didn’t notice anything unusual at the time. I read in a number of news reports that Park Sung-bin, my ex-wife’s brother, called candidate Moon Yong-rin to let him know about Candy’s Facebook message in advance and to thank him for ‘fighting against’ me, and that is what the family wants.”

Koh, 56, has been a widely respected figure in South Korea, particularly recognized for his impeccable academic and professional achievements.

The Seoul National University graduate passed three state-run exams for law, diplomacy and public administration all in his 20s. He later obtained three law degrees from Harvard, Yale and Columbia, respectively.

Candy told one of the major local dailies that she decided to write the Facebook post after learning that Koh burst into tears at a recent press conference, while requesting the public not to criticize his son for having U.S. citizenship, revealing that it was automatically given to him as he was born in the U.S.

“But I’ve never seen Koh show that much affection to my brother in real life,” Candy said in an interview with the paper.

The press meeting was held in response to the public criticism made by Koh’s rival Moon, the incumbent Seoul education chief, who stressed that both of Koh’s children were educated overseas and asked Koh to reveal his children’s citizenship.

Just two days before Candy shared her Facebook message, liberal candidate Cho Hi-yeon’s son, Seong-hun, wrote an online post that was quite the opposite in manner. The college student openly pleaded for support for Cho, a sociology professor who spent his early days fighting against the authoritarian government in the 70s.

“I’ve been close at my father’s side for the past 20 years,” Seong-hun wrote in his post shared on Daum Agora, one of the largest Internet debate bulletin boards in South Korea.

“I can assure you that if my father becomes the Seoul education chief, he will not simply look after money or commit illegal deeds. I was afraid that I may no longer be able to live as an ordinary college student by posting something like this online, and that I may have to live as the son of Cho Hi-yeon. But I decided to do it because I wanted the public to at least have an opportunity to learn what kind of a person my father really is.”

According to a recent poll jointly organized by major local broadcasters and Hankook Research from May 27-28, Koh was leading Cho and conservative candidate Moon Yong-rin with an approval rating of 30.7 percent. Moon received 21.8 percent, while Cho was given 15 percent.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)

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