Lawmakers began the parliament’s annual inspection of state affairs on Wednesday with the ruling and opposition parties bickering over the selection of witnesses.
The recent killing of a South Korean civil servant by North Korean troops, along with the row over special treatment for the justice minister’s son in the military, overshadowed other issues.
On the first day of the parliamentary audit, which runs until Oct. 26, a total of 14 parliamentary standing committees, including the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, the National Defense Committee and the National Policy Committee, questioned government organizations on pending issues.
The National Defense Committee saw the ruling Democratic Party and the main opposition People Power Party square off over the government’s handling of the shooting death, which took place last month in North Korean waters near the island Yeonpyeongdo.
Defense Minister Suh Wook, who attended the session to answer lawmakers’ questions, called the incident a “hostile act” and said all responsibility lay with the communist regime.
Suh stressed the need for a joint inter-Korean investigation to get to the bottom of the shooting, as details remain unclear due to the conflicting accounts presented by Seoul and Pyongyang.
“The military tensions have been continuing, with North Korea threatening a legitimate search operation (by the South) in our waters without responding to our request for a joint investigation,”
The official, surnamed Lee, was shot dead by North Korean troops after drifting into the North’s waters in what the South’s military concluded was an attempt at defection via sea. The military at first said his dead body was likely burned by the North, which Pyongyang denied. The North did admit to the killing.
On Sept. 27, North Korea warned South Korea not to trespass on its territorial waters while searching for the body.
Rep. Shin Won-sik of the People Power Party criticized the government for making insufficient efforts to rescue Lee, blaming President Moon Jae-in for not giving directions to conduct a rescue.
“For 37 hours after learning that North Korea killed and damaged the body (of Lee), the effort made by the government was only focused on how to explain the incident to the public. It should have brought the issue to the United Nations or the international community but the government didn’t take such actions properly,” Shin said.
Rep. Kim Byung-kee of the Democratic Party defended the Defense Ministry’s countermeasures, saying the military’s firm action and decisive tone had led the North to immediately issue an apology to the South.
During the Legislation and Judiciary Committee session, rival parties continued to quarrel over the selection of witnesses as they prepared to put Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae under scrutiny over the alleged special favors her son received during his military service in 2017.
The People Power Party requested that the committee call in 20 people involved in the allegations, but the Democratic Party refused to summon any of them.
“All of the witnesses demanded by the party were not endorsed because the Democratic Party did not agree,” Rep. Chang Je-won said. Adding that the ruling party was using its majority to “deprive the opposition party of its right to audit.”
On Sept. 28 after an investigation, prosecutors decided not to press charges against Choo or her son, surnamed Seo, saying there was not enough evidence that deception or external pressure made it possible for Seo to take extra vacation days without prior approval due to the influence of his mother.
However, the former military personnel who first raised speculation over Seo’s use of vacation time plans to file a defamation suit against the minister and Seo’s lawyers next Monday, for accusing him of making false claims.
“The case is not over yet as another suit is expected be filed. Under the circumstances, the justice minister has the right to avoid issues that may be disadvantageous to her,” Rep. Park Beom-kye said.
By Park Han-na (email@example.com