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Civic group sues tax authorities for information leak

A group of civic activists filed a complaint against the National Tax Service for defaming celebrities by leaking its tax audit results, which resulted in the much publicized retirement of Kang Ho-dong.

The Korea Tax Payer’s Federation said Thursday that the filing had been completed with the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office.

“Even tax experts sometimes have trouble in dealing with the complicated taxation process. It is a big problem that the NTS simply labeled celebrities as tax evaders without thoroughly investigating them but chose to conduct a tax audit. It is also wrong for the authorities to leak the information to the public,” the group said in the filing.

The NTS conducted tax audits into the reported incomes of Kang Ho-dong, one of the nation’s most popular TV presenters, and actress Kim Ah-joong in May, on suspicion that they had attempted to evade tax by inflating expenses.

Kang’s lawyer and tax service provider reportedly raised a few objections but were denied. Kang has reportedly paid hundreds of millions of won in owed taxes.

The initial report ignited public uproar toward one of the highest paid celebrities in the country and led to a 40-something businessman filing a complaint against Kang for tax evasion. Kang last Friday offered to “temporarily” retire.

The NTS explained that Kang’s “miscalculation” on his tax payment seemed unintentional and the amount was less than 300 million won a year, not enough to face a penalty.

Kim Sun-taek, chief of the KTPF, said the legal action was taken to raise the NTS’ awareness of privacy protection.

“If the court does not find justice now, then the authorities are likely to commit the wrongdoing again,” he said.

Lee Kyung-hwan, a lawyer for the group, criticized the NTS for lax management of personal information.

“The NTS has a full range of personal information on taxpayers including income, total assets, credit card payments and medical fees. It is alarming that the mishandling has been considered a demeanor,” he said.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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