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Ministry says no illicit act by foreign envoys over law firm rules

All News 18:28 January 19, 2016

SEOUL, Jan. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Foreign Ministry defended foreign envoys here Tuesday from criticism that they are illegitimately seeking to pressure the country's parliament over a bill on law firms.

A day earlier, U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert met with Rep. Lee Sang-min, head of the National Assembly's legislation and judiciary committee, and delivered a protest statement against the revision bill on the opening of South Korea's legal market.

It was also signed by British Amb. Charles Hay, EU Amb. Gerhard Sabathil, and Ravi Kewalram, deputy head of Australia's mission in Seoul.

"The revision contains several terms restricting foreign law firms from setting up a joint venture here. We urge the parliament to adopt a bill opening Korea's legal services market more completely," it said.

The envoys particularly took issue with the stipulation prohibiting foreign law firms from owning more than 49 percent of any joint venture with South Korean firms. The restrictions were proposed by the Justice Ministry as South Korea is preparing to open its legal market in accordance with the free trade agreements with the economic blocs.

Local lawyers' groups immediately lodged a strong protest, saying the foreign ambassadors are trying to infringe on South Korea's sovereignty.

They claimed it's an obvious interference with internal affairs.

But Foreign Ministry officials said there is no problem with the envoys' action.

"Generally, diplomatic corps are engaged in activities to convey their home countries' position to host nations via various channels," an official said.

The government is pushing for the gradual opening of the legal market to implement the FTAs, he added.


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