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(2nd LD) PM calls for crackdown on corrupt officials

All Headlines 17:01 June 15, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with President Lee's remarks at bottom)

SEOUL, June 15 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik called for stricter discipline for public officials Wednesday as a number of former and incumbent ranking government officials came under scrutiny for allegedly taking bribes from a troubled savings bank.

"Public officials should not cause a setback to state management because of relaxed attitudes as the government is in its fourth year in power," Kim said in a luncheon meeting with auditors from 38 central government offices.

"This year is a critical one for the government to resolve piles of pending issues and reap the fruits of the efforts it has made so far."

He instructed the government to conduct thorough inspections into possible work-related corruption by public officials, stressing that improper acts or corruption by an individual civil servant can damage public trust in the government.

The prime minister, in particular, called for public officials' political neutrality ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections next year.

The Prime Minister's Office said in a press statement that it will launch an intensive crackdown from next month on public officials who are politically active or violate the ethics code.

Prosecutors said on Tuesday that they were probing a former aide to President Lee Myung-bak in connection with the ever-widening influence-peddling scandal involving Busan Savings Bank.

Kim Hae-su, who worked as a presidential secretary on political affairs from September 2009 till early this year, is suspected of receiving tens of millions of won from the bank in return for business favors, the prosecutors said. Kim, however, denies the charges.

On Wednesday, a senior official dealing with real estate policies at the Ministry of Land and Maritime Affairs was arrested on bribery charges.

The official was charged with taking gifts worth 32 million won (US$29,643) from the owner of a real estate investment trust in kickbacks last December. The owner surnamed Choi is currently in jail for allegedly manipulating stock prices of his company with the help of a professional price-rigging broker.

The corruption scandals were a blow to Lee's "fair society" campaign and efforts to strengthen his image as a leader who cares for low-income families.

Lee emphasized the need to follow through on the campaign, saying corruption by those in power would make the underprivileged feel a greater sense of deprivation.

"In light of this, we should put as much effort into making our society fairer as we put into making the country richer," he said during a luncheon with members of the Korea Freedom Federation, a Seoul-based conservative non-governmental organization.


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