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[Newsmaker] Ex-aide probed for college misconduct

Song’s suspicious exit reignites controversy over Cheong Wa Dae’s personnel choices

A former senior presidential secretary who left a lot of questions in the wake of his abrupt resignation was found to have been under police investigation on suspicions of operating an unauthorized course while serving as a university president, reports said on Monday.

Song Kwang-yong, former senior presidential secretary for education and culture, tendered his resignation on Saturday, only three months after he took the post. His departure raised a flurry of speculations as he left without giving any specific reason. His resignation also created a media frenzy as it was immediately accepted by President Park Geun-hye on the same day she embarked on a weeklong overseas trip to Canada and the United States. Her spokesman briefly told reporters that Song wanted to resume his teaching, but not many seemed to believe that.

Amid mounting speculations, it was revealed that Song had been investigated by Seocho Police Station in southern Seoul in recent months. According to sources, Song is one of the former and incumbent heads of 17 public and private universities who have been investigated by the police over allegations that they ran an overseas study program without gaining permission from the government. The list of universities that allegedly violated the High Education Act includes Seoul National University of Education, where Song was in charge before he took the presidential secretary post in June.
Song Kwang-yong, former senior presidential secretary for education and culture (Yonhap)
Song Kwang-yong, former senior presidential secretary for education and culture (Yonhap)

The 17 universities are suspected of running unauthorized programs in which students were allowed to attend foreign colleges as part of their undergraduate courses. The overseas programs have been facing a barrage of criticism from students and parents as Korean universities received a commission of 20-40 percent on tuition fees of students who enrolled in the programs.

“Universities should have gotten permission from the education minister to operate such a program in association with foreign schools, but they did not. They have violated the High Education Act,” a police official was quoted as saying by Yonhap. “Former presidential secretary Song is on the investigation list,” the official added.

The police said they sent the case to the prosecution for further investigation with a request to indict those involved.

The case is likely to reignite controversy over Cheong Wa Dae’s personnel screening process, which has been receiving harsh public criticism recently over a series of failed nominations of Cabinet members and other high ranking officials.

The presidential office said it will revamp its vetting process by launching an internal office to conduct a thorough and transparent screening of candidates for top official posts.

Contrary to Cheong Wa Dae’s announcement, Song was named to the senior presidential secretary post three days after he was interrogated by the police. According to reports, Song was summoned by the police on June 9, but was named President Park’s new aide in charge of education and culture affairs on June 12, raising questions over whether the presidential office conducted a brief background check on him or not.

By Cho Chung-un (
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Korea Herald daum