The confirmation hearings on the Park Geun-hye administration’s second batch of Cabinet members got off to a shaky start Monday with the main opposition concentrating fire on Lee Byung-kee.
Lee, a career diplomat tapped to lead the National Intelligence Service, has been one of the main targets of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy’s attack on President Park Geun-hye’s latest personnel selections.
|NIS nominee Lee Byung-kee (Lee Gil-dong/The Korea Herald)|
As Lee came under scrutiny, Presidential Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon spoke out about the administration’s personnel mishaps.
As the chief of the personnel selection committee, Kim has been blamed for the series of failed selections for high-level government posts and faced pressure to resign from opposition parties.
“The responsibility for the success and failure of the personnel appointments is entirely on the chief of staff who is the head of the (presidential) committee for personnel affairs,” Kim said in a briefing to lawmakers at National Assembly.
But Kim defended himself that it is “practically impossible” to check every “personal remark or lecture” delivered by candidates and that it was in a TV report that he first learned about former prime minister nominee Moon Chang-keuk’s controversial speech at a church.
The NPAD categorized Lee as unfit for office immediately after his nomination citing his part in an illegal political funding scandal in 2002. At the time, Lee delivered 500 million won ($494,000) from then conservative leader Lee Hoe-chang to Rep. Rhee In-je.
Apologizing again for his involvement, Lee said that he would never had delivered the money had he known its nature.
Denying any connection to the so-called “North wind” case of 1997, Lee also vowed to maintain political neutrality as the NIS chief. The case refers to the attempt to push up the conservative presidential candidate’s ratings by prompting North Korea to engage in a show of force near the inter-Korean border. At the time, Lee was serving as a deputy chief of the spy agency.
“At the time I advised (NIS) officials to stay out of politics. (My) beliefs are the same now,” Lee said, adding that he will “erase the words political interference” from his head.
Lee’s confirmation hearing also experienced a brief disruption when opposition lawmakers found NIS agents photographing materials they had prepared for the hearing.
Led by NPAD floor leader Rep. Park Young-sun, opposition lawmakers then halted the proceedings, accusing the NIS of spying on lawmakers.
The NIS agents’ actions and presence, however, were later revealed to have been according to protocol, and the hearing resumed after about 40 minutes.
|Science Minister nominee Choi Yang-hee (Yonhap)|
The confirmation hearing for Science Minister nominee Choi Yang-hee progressed along different lines with the Seoul National University professor apologizing for the allegations against him.
It has been alleged that Choi used a doctored contract in a real estate transaction and evaded about 42 million won in taxes, and that he violated the Farmland Act by building a home in the countryside. Choi was also criticized for the late payment of taxes arising from the payment he received from steelmaker POSCO ICT’s outside director.
“Again, I apologize for taking actions that led to unnecessary suspicions,” Choi said, explaining that all taxes have been paid.
By Choi He-suk and Cho Chung-un