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Land minister nominee pressed by opposition over controversial remarks, allegations

Politics 17:27 December 22, 2020

SEOUL, Dec. 22 (Yonhap) -- Land Minister nominee Byeon Chang-heum, soon to face a parliamentary confirmation hearing, has come under growing pressure from opposition lawmakers to withdraw his nomination over controversial past remarks and suspicions of cronyism.

Byeon, the CEO of the state-run housing developer Korea Land & Housing Corp., was tapped earlier this month to replace Land Minister Kim Hyun-mee, amid a public backlash against the government's failure to curb soaring housing prices.

Opposition lawmakers led by the conservative, main opposition People Power Party (PPP), however, have denounced Byeon as unfit for the ministerial post and called for his nomination to be withdrawn, citing his past controversial remarks and alleged misdeeds.

At the center of the criticism are remarks Byeon made as the then CEO of Seoul Housing & Communities Corp. (SH), controlled by the Seoul metropolitan government, about a 19-year-old service engineer who was killed while repairing a screen door at the subway platform of Guui Station in Seoul in 2016.

The incident drew a huge backlash against Seoul Metro Corp., which is also controlled by the Seoul metropolitan government.

"If that guy had paid a little bit of attention, nothing would have happened," Byeon was found to have said during a company meeting after the accident, stirring criticism over what some opposition lawmakers called a lack of respect for human dignity and life.

Land Minister nominee Byeon Chang-heum is on his way to his office on Dec. 22, 2020. (Yonhap)

Land Minister nominee Byeon Chang-heum is on his way to his office on Dec. 22, 2020. (Yonhap)

Doubling down on its offense ahead of the minister nominee's confirmation Wednesday, the PPP again called for Byeon's withdrawal.

"Due to a lack of personal integrity, not to mention qualifications and competence, nominee Byeon isn't fit for the ministerial role and cannot be allowed to sit for the confirmation hearing," a group of PPP lawmakers said in a press conference.

The lawmakers warned that they may take legal action if the nominee does not step down.

PPP spokesman Rep. Bae June-young also vowed that the party will do all it can to thwart Byeon's final appointment.

The progressive minor Justice Party also voiced its objection to the nomination, with spokesperson Jeong Ho-jin saying the party finds it difficult to approve his appointment in the absence of forgiveness from the family of the late service worker.

The nominee is also facing other allegations raised by opposition lawmakers, including suspicions of hiring several close alumni from his alma mater, Seoul National University, for senior SH posts in the past.


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