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[Newsmaker] Moon says FSS chief will be asked to step down if illegality found

President Moon Jae-in said Friday he would remove the controversial financial watchdog chief if his overseas trips are found to have been illegal or unethical as a lawmaker.

Kim Ki-sik, who was appointed head of the Financial Supervisory Service on April 2, has been under fire for overseas trips in 2014 and 2015, when he was a lawmaker and member of the National Policy Committee.

Opposition parties called for Kim’s dismissal, saying the trips had been sponsored by the Korea Exchange, Korea Institute for International Economic Policy and Woori Bank, in lobbying attempts. The institutes were subject to oversight by Kim’s parliamentary committee.

FSS chief Kim Ki-sik (Yonhap)
FSS chief Kim Ki-sik (Yonhap)

“I will ask him to resign if any of his conduct during his service at the National Assembly is found to have been illegal. I will also have him resign if his overseas trips appear to fall far behind the moral standards of the general practice shared by the lawmakers at that time,” Moon said in a statement released by Cheong Wa Dae.

“Whether it is legal or illegal for a lawmaker to go to an overseas work trip supported by government entities, I humbly admit that such practice does not meet the public’s expectations. But if it was generally done by all politicians at the time, I cannot accept the opposition party’s demands to withdraw Kim’s appointment,” Moon said, adding that it is always very difficult to appoint government officials as the choices invite controversy.

Opposition parties claim Kim violated elections law. Kim is reported to have donated 50 million won ($46,000) to Korea Institute for the Future, a liberal think tank, and received over 85 million won while serving 19 months as the chief of the entity after his parliamentary term ended.

The prosecution began a probe into Kim to determine if his trips were work-related, and raided the offices of the headquarters of the concerned bourse operator and bank, as well as two local research institutes, seizing accounting documents earlier in the day.

The National Election Commission said it has also started a probe into Kim’s case to see if he breached the political fund law, upon a presidential request. On Thursday, Cheong Wa Dae sent an inquiry to the election watchdog, along with data showing the number of overseas trips lawmakers across the aisle had taken over the years.

Opposition parties continued their offensive against the presidential office and Kim. Rival parties have also requested data on lawmakers’ work-related overseas trips.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party said the president is shifting the responsibility of his appointment of Kim to the judicial institutes, and accused the Moon administration of having conducted an inspection of the National Assembly.

“Cheong Wa Dae has taken the NEC as a shield and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea as its bullet. We will not succumb, and will fight against Moon’s imperialistic presidency,” Rep. Kim Sung-tae, the floor leader of the conservative party, said in a party meeting.

The center-right opposition Bareunmirae Party and center-left Party for Democracy and Peace also voiced criticisms, saying it is unfair to overlook past wrongdoings.

The far-left Justice Party also turned its back on the liberal administration, saying that Kim’s resignation is only part of the process of getting rid of societal irregularities.

The ruling Democratic Party, on the other hand, said the attacks from the Liberty Korea Party are part of a strategy to hold back the review of the constitutional reform proposal as well as passage of a supplementary budget bill, both of which are pending at the National Assembly.

By Jo He-rim (