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Head of Incheon Airport refuses to resign despite pressure

Koo Bon-hwan, eighth CEO of IIAC, speaks at Wednesday‘s press conference at the corporation’s office in Incheon. (Yonhap)
Koo Bon-hwan, eighth CEO of IIAC, speaks at Wednesday‘s press conference at the corporation’s office in Incheon. (Yonhap)
In a direct hit against the Transport Ministry‘s move to oust him, Koo Bon-hwan, chief executive officer of the state-run Incheon International Airport Corp., on Wednesday refused to step down for “ungrounded” reasons.

“During a meeting with a senior official at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport earlier this month, I was asked to resign on my own. I was told a dismissal would be recommended if I don‘t leave immediately,” he said during a press conference at the IIAC office.

His comments come following reports that the Transport Ministry is moving to remove him from his position, having recommended his dismissal to the Ministry of Economy and Finance after launching an investigation into several accusations against the CEO, which are yet to be confirmed.

The rare move by the ministry has been stoking multiple speculations, including how it may be seeking a way out of its permanent job transition debacle by having Koo take the fall.

“I expressed my intention that I can’t leave the post immediately without being given a good reason to do so,” he added. He also said his offer to quit sometime next year had been rejected.

Koo is accused of misusing a corporate credit card as well as dismissing a staff member for formally questioning a human resources decision. Koo argues these accusations don’t amount to grounds for dismissal.

He faced criticism after a credit card bill revealed that he was at a Korean barbecue restaurant after leaving an audit of state affairs at the National Assembly early last October to prepare for Typhoon Mitag. In a statement on Tuesday, IIAC apologized for its “complacent response” to the typhoon.

Koo began his three-year term as president of Incheon International Airport Corp. in April last year after serving at the Transport Ministry for 28 years with a pledge to improve the airport’s infrastructure.

But his tenure has been marred by the coronavirus pandemic that has hit the aviation industry hard, which saw passengers at the country’s main airport drop by over 95 percent, as well as a series of controversies.

In June, the airport operator’s decision to give permanent positions to some 1,900 nonregular security workers, a move in line with President Moon’s policy, was met with criticism from job seekers and union members, spawning multiple petitions on the website of the presidential office.

“Part-timers ended up getting a job at one of the best public enterprises. What about all of our efforts and studying we’ve done (to get regular positions)?” one petition reads, questioning the fairness of the move.

Earlier this month, Professors’ Solidarity for Freedom & Justice, a right-leaning group consisting of some 6,000 professors, reported Koo and the management at IIAC to the prosecution over charges of malpractice and abuse of authority in response to the airport’s permanent job offers.

In July, IIAC was embroiled in yet another controversy after a proposed design for a new logo to celebrate the corporation’s 20th anniversary was leaked and met with mockery for its phoenix-inspired shape.

The corporation explained then the design had been ditched after considering the majority of opinions.

The airport has also been embroiled in a controversy over its decision to open bids for an operator of a golf course built on airport-owned land.

By Yim Hyun-su (