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(2nd LD) FTC chief nominee grilled over policy orientations, ethical issues

All Headlines 17:06 June 02, 2017

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; UPDATES throughout with new remarks, details; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, June 2 (Yonhap) -- Fair Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman-designate Kim Sang-jo was grilled over his policy orientations and ethical qualifications during a parliamentary confirmation hearing Friday.

Opposition lawmakers pelted him with questions over allegations against him and his family, saying he is unfit for the post tasked with promoting corporate transparency and fair competition.

However, Kim, seen as an architect of President Moon Jae-in's policies to reform local family-owned conglomerates, emphasized the need to level the playing field for all business actors, small or big.

Kim's appointment does not require parliamentary consent, but any intense opposition at the National Assembly could pose a political burden for him.

During his opening remarks, Kim vowed to root out any unfair practices done by big businesses and strive to address economic polarization.

"I will focus on ensuring that small and medium-sized enterprises and microbusiness owners will not suffer from any unfair dealings, and that they will be given fair opportunities," the nominee said.

Fair Trade Commission Chairman-designate Kim Sang-jo attends a parliamentary confirmation hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul on June 2, 2017. (Yonhap)

As expected, conservative opposition legislators assailed the economist over allegations ranging from self-plagiarism to false address registrations. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party demanded he voluntarily give up his nomination.

The allegation involving his wife also put him on edge. She is suspected of getting a job as an English instructor at a high school in 2013 despite her English proficiency test score being lower than the requirement.

"I am sorry for having stirred up a controversy regarding my wife," he said. "When she got the job then, there was no competitor during the application process, and I thought she was qualified for it."

Kim was also slammed for the suspicion that he copied and pasted the outcome of his research for the Economic and Social Development Commission (ESDC), a government entity, to publish another paper in a private labor journal in 2000.

"I published the paper in the journal with the permission of the ESDC," Kim said.

"I regret that the writing published in 2000 is not in line with current ethical standards," he added.

Fair Trade Commission Chairman-designate Kim Sang-jo speaks during a parliamentary confirmation hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul on June 2, 2017. (Yonhap)

During the hearing, Kim voiced the need to separate conglomerates into smaller entities to prevent them from monopolizing the market.

"The introduction of the system is needed, but conditions to invoke it and have an impact (on the market) have to be sufficiently deliberated on," he said.

Asked about whether to abolish the FTC's exclusive right to file a complaint with the prosecution for any violations of fair trade rules, Kim said that "the right cannot remain intact as it stands now." But he fell short of saying he would push to do away with it.

The right was instituted upon the enforcement of the Fair Trade Act in 1981. It aims to prevent laymen from filing a flood of lawsuits against local firms, which corporate circles claim would seriously restrain their business activities.

But critics have raised suspicions that the trade watchdog might refrain from exercising the right even when necessary under the name of promoting business activities.

When asked about introducing the right for private entities to ask courts to stop unfair business practices, the nominee gave a positive answer.

"I believe (the right) could be a very effective tool to save victims," he said.

Reflecting on his life as an outspoken chaebol critic, Kim pointed out that he has rejected all offers for research or director positions from big businesses or governments.

"I tried to be strict on myself because if I got embroiled in any favoritism controversy, that would hurt not only my track record but also the outcome of the civic activist groups (I have worked for)," he said.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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