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(News Focus) Confirmation hearings raise more suspicions, divide political parties

All Headlines 20:46 August 25, 2010

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- As the week-long confirmation hearings for Cabinet appointees were coming to an end, it wasn't any clearer who would be confirmed and who would be dropped after days of thrown suspicions, repeated apologies, admissions of unethical conduct and bitter political wrangling.

The clash between rival parties was brewing after the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) unilaterally adopted hearing reports for three nominees for education and welfare ministers and the national police chief despite boycotts by the main opposition Democratic Party (DP).

The DP said it would mount a campaign to have some of the nominations withdrawn. For prime minister designate Kim Tae-ho, the DP said it may file a complaint with the prosecution on at least seven law violations confirmed during his two-day confirmation hearing.

Appointment of a prime minister requires the endorsement of the National Assembly, in which the GNP currently holds an absolute majority. Appointments of Cabinet ministers do not need parliamentary approval, with confirmation hearing reports serving as more of a procedure, but feuds over the appointments often lead to confrontational relations between the administration and the lawmaking body, thwarting the execution of state affairs.

Rocky relations could hurt the Lee Myung-bak administration, which entered the second half of its five-year term as of Wednesday. President Lee needs the parliament's support to fulfill his policy goals.

Controversies over the nominees, named in the Aug. 8 Cabinet reshuffle were well expected as most of them have been implicated in serious suspicions.

Lee Ju-ho, minister-designate for education, came under fire for evading gift tax when transferring a beneficiary certificate to his daughter. He was also accused of publishing the same research paper in two different academic journals.

Chin Soo-hee, nominated for public health and welfare minister, was alleged to have arranged business favors for her younger brother, and her daughter was found to have used South Korea's health insurance even after gaining American citizenship. Opposition lawmakers also looked suspiciously at her family's sudden wealth increase, which she failed to explain.

Cho Hyun-oh, tapped for head of the National Police Agency, was sued for libel for his remarks that former President Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide after investigators found bank accounts he held under borrowed names, a violation of financial laws. He was also heavily criticized for comparing bereaved families of sailors killed in the Cheonan warship sinking to "wailing animals."

Knowledge economy minister-designate Lee Jae-hoon apologized for "causing trouble" over his wife's dubious real estate purchase that the opposition charged was a speculative deal, while culture minister nominee Shin Jae-min admitted and apologized for false residential registration to send his daughter to a different school. Shin said it was to protect his daughter from bullies.

Prime minister appointee Kim Tae-ho, perhaps the most controversial candidate of all due to his background and previous accusations made again him, also admitted to ethical misconduct, including hiring a subordinate as his personal maid when serving as governor of South Gyeongsang Province and allowing his wife to use the car provided for official use.

Kim apologized for such conduct, but for the opposition, he clearly failed to answer for his financial records.

He is also accused of receiving tens of thousands of dollars in illegal political funds from Park Yeon-cha, a businessman, during his U.S. visit in 2007. The prosecution cleared him of the bribery charges last December, but the suspicions dogged him throughout the confirmation hearing.

Key witnesses, including Park and senior prosecutors who investigated the influence-peddling scandal, refused to show up for testimony at the hearing.

"The (prime minister) designate was found to have violated seven laws, including the bank law and the public service ethics law," Park Jie-won, interim leader of the DP, said during a party leadership meeting. "He is unfit as a prime minister who will lead a fair society."

Despite the claims, the GNP was set to endorse his appointment.

"It is hard to say Kim is perfect and flawless," Rep. Chung Ok-im of the GNP said in a radio interview. "But we have found no decisive defect sufficient to disqualify him from becoming prime minister," she said.


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