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Park Geun-hye rocked by delayed Cabinet launch
Publication Date : 18-02-2013
Park Geun-hye’s presidential campaign posters once portrayed her as a “prepared” leader, owing to her experience as an acting first lady, her leadership in resuscitating the conservative Grand National Party in 2004, and later leading a series of crucial election victories for the party.
But with less than eight days remaining until inauguration, the president-elect’s Cabinet appears likely to be the first in recent memory to come into power half-empty, as allegations of misdeeds and backroom deals surrounding her nominees point to a long and difficult confirmation hearing.
Park’s nominee to head the Ministry of Justice, Hwang Kyo-ahn, is in the hot seat for earning 1.6 billion won (US$1.4 million) over the 16 months he worked at a law firm following his two-decade-long career as a prosecutor. During his tenure at the law firm, Hwang handled just two legal cases.
Critics have argued that Hwang received what South Koreans call “respect to former officials”, where former high-ranking public servants who go on to work for private companies receive hefty salaries in return for yielding influence over former subordinates who are still on the government payroll.
Prosecutors and judges who retire and go into private practice are often highly successful in securing lenient sentencing or freedom for their clients, in return for fees several times higher than those of other lawyers who did not sit on the bench.
“(Hwang’s high salary at the law firm) is most likely the payment for him lowering charges for the wealthy and owners of large corporations,” wrote Lee Jong-hoon, a law professor at Myongji University, via Twitter on Sunday.
The Justice Ministry nominee is also accused of evading property and inheritance taxes as well as military service. According to military records, Hwang delayed the required physical examination three times, before eventually being exempt from the mandatory service for a skin disease.
Park’s nominee for the Ministry of National Defense, Kim Byung-kwan, is also accused of a host of misdeeds and backroom deals.
In 1999, when Kim was the commander of the Second Infantry Division, two of his subordinates were arrested for receiving bribes from a military contractor. But Kim suspended them for only a month, and as a result, received a warning from the Army chief of staff for overlooking the corruption of his subordinates.
Kim is also accused of tax evasion, making a false report on his wealth, and working as a consultant for a military contractor that was investigated by authorities in Germany and South Korea for bribing military officials and engaging in illegal lobbying. During his tenure as a military general, Kim handled the importation of weapons and arms for the military.
Army officials say that it is highly unusual for a former Army general, and especially one who vetted military contractors, to work for a weapons importer following retirement.
“It is difficult to understand how a former Army commander could essentially work as a lobbyist for a military contractor, and then be nominated as defense minister,” a military official was quoted as saying by the news wire service News 1.
The main opposition Democratic United Party stepped up its criticism of Park’s nominees over the weekend.
“It will be good for themselves, the people and the political parties for defense and justice minister nominees to resign on their own,” the DUP floor leader Park Ki-choon told reporters during a briefing on Sunday.
“A significant number of tips on the defense and justice minister nominees have been coming in. They are quite shocking in nature. There are several opinions that we should boycott the confirmation hearings in the first place.”
Last week, the ruling Saenuri Party and the opposition Democratic United Party agreed to conduct confirmation hearings for her nominees after her February 25 inauguration.
That means Park will have to work with Cabinet members of the outgoing Lee Myung-bak administration, tarnishing her image as a “prepared” leader.