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S. Korea's PM nominee steps down

Ahn Dae-hee

Publication Date : 29-05-2014


South Korea's Prime Minister designate Ahn Dae-hee withdrew himself from nomination on Thursday afternoon amid spiraling controversy over his high income and accusations that he received special favours.

“It would be a burden to the government if I stay as a prime minister nominee,” Ahn said at a news conference.

“I apologise to the president for causing concern.”

The resignation came six days after President Park Geun-hye nominated Ahn, a former star prosecutor, for the country’s No. 2 post. Park’s choice was seen as a fresh start for her government amid growing public criticism for its failure during the ferry disaster.

Presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook told reporters that President Park “looked disappointed”when she was briefed on his decision ahead of the announcement.

Ahn’s resignation is likely to deal a serious blow to Park’s reform efforts and her reshuffle plan.

The president said she would carry out a major Cabinet reshuffle soon. She also proposed to conduct a major restructuring in her government to improve the country’s safety standards and work efficiency.

President Park’s nomination of Ahn Dae-hee as new prime minister was widely seen as a safe choice as he has been hailed as a “people’s prosecutor”.

As a prosecutor, Ahn led investigations into high-profile corruption cases involving politicians and presidential aides in 2003. He was a Supreme Court judge nominated by the then liberal-President Roh Moo-hyun and was endorsed by the parliament when then Uri Party, predecessor of the New Political Alliance for Democracy, had a majority of seats.

But less than a week after Ahn was nominated, expectations of the former corruption buster were shattered by a series of allegations.

The nominee defended himself from heavy criticism over the high level of income he reported since he opened a private legal office last year. The main opposition party NPAD claimed that the large fees he received in a short period of time could not be justified, raising speculations that he might have used his connections with incumbent former colleagues to get preferential treatment in the courts.

Question over his job ethics have also been raised, after reports and claims that he had “inappropriately” defended a company in a corporate tax lawsuit while he was serving as the head of a tax investigation committee under the National Tax Service.

Opposition lawmakers cast doubts on his sincerity, suggesting that Ahn made a donation of 300 million won to Unicef, a global child relief organization, shortly after incumbent Prime Minister Chung Hong-won offered to resign. Calling it “too political,” the NPAD accused him of trying to buy his way in to the nation’s No. 2 post.

The controversy didn’t end there.

An opposition lawmaker brought up a fresh allegation Wednesday that his financial assets increased suspiciously while he served as a Supreme Court justice. Rep. Seo Young-kyo claimed that Ahn saw a 94 million won increase in his bank account over two years, although Ahn reported that he had spent all of his salary in the same period.

“He said he spent all of his income, but he had a more than 90 million won increase in his bank account. It goes beyond common sense,” he said.

Rep. Seo also said the 90 million won found in his bank account nearly matches the amount of official allowances given to the top judge during his term.

“Ahn was given 45 million won a year in official allowances for private purposes, which adds up to 90 million won in two years. It is hard to believe it was just a coincidence,” he said.

US$1 = 1,021 won


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