NATIONAL

Cheong Wa Dae probes aide’s scandal

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 26, 2016 - 16:31
  • Updated : Jul 26, 2016 - 17:34

Cheong Wa Dae has launched a special inspection to look into the corruption allegations involving senior presidential secretary for civil affairs Woo Byung-woo, officials said Tuesday, as calls for his resignation continue to grow.

But the special probe, with its limited range of investigation, also seems to be a strategy to buy time for President Park Geun-hye, who has explicitly been supporting her aide amid the rising allegations.

“I will carry out the inspection as is stated by the law,” Lee Seok-soo, the independent presidential investigator in charge of Woo’s case, told reporters on Tuesday on his way to his downtown office.
Senior presidential secretary for civil affairs Woo Byung-woo (Yonhap)
The special probe, which kicked off over the weekend, according to Lee, is to last for a month and may be prolonged by another month upon presidential permission.

The special inspection system was created in March 2014 to be in charge of any irregularity allegations of spouses and family members of the president and senior presidential secretaries. It was initiated based on President Park’s election campaign pledge to root out high-profile corruption in public offices.

Lee’s team will be looking into allegations that Woo’s son was given privileges in obtaining his current military post. Woo is also suspected of understating his assets through his family-dominated company and allegedly skipping the verification process in the appointment of a scandal-ridden senior prosecutor.

Depending on the result, the team may choose to summon Woo for questioning or hand over the case to the prosecution, which is currently holding off on its probe.

The probe, however, excludes other suspicions that the senior official was involved in covert monetary transactions over a costly piece of Gangnam real estate in 2011, as the deal had taken place before Woo took office at the Blue House.

It was this allegation that had put Woo in the spotlight earlier this month, as it possibly connected him to corruption cases involving arrested senior prosecutor Jin Kyung-joon.

Cheong Wa Dae refrained from commenting, especially since President Park is taking the week off on a five-day summer holiday.

“We have neither been informed of the special probe, nor know how it will proceed,” said an official of the presidential office.

Considering the president’s recent show of support, it has been speculated that Cheong Wa Dae for now will not dismiss Woo, whose job includes overseeing discipline among the public servants and government organizations.

“Those of you here (who are being accused) should not avoid denunciation ... until the time comes for you to clear your name,” Park had said at the National Security Council meeting last week. Although she did not mention Woo’s name, this remark was taken as support for her civil affairs chief.

However, a growing number of members at the ruling party are suggesting it is time for Woo to step down.

“It seems that Woo, with his series of allegations, is no longer able to perform his duty as senior presidential secretary,” said Rep. Kim Young-woo, a member of the party’s interim leadership council on Monday, calling for Woo’s resignation.

His remarks, which the party spokesperson later described as “personal opinion,” reflected the concern that a prolonged scandal concerning a presidential aide will eventually deliver a blow to the presidential office and ruling camp.

By Bae Hyun-jung(tellme@heraldcorp.com)