(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with NEC's decision on audit in paras 1-4; REPLACES photo)
By Kim Han-joo
SEOUL, June 9 (Yonhap) -- The National Election Commission (NEC) decided Friday to accept the state auditor's inspection into a hiring corruption scandal involving high-ranking officials.
The election watchdog initially refused to comply with an inspection by the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) last week, citing its status as an independent agency. But the commission reversed its position amid grown criticism from the public and political circles.
"In light of the significant public suspicion surrounding the issue of preferential hiring of children of high-ranking officials, we have decided to undergo an audit by the BAI so as to promptly alleviate the suspicions and concentrate on preparations for the upcoming general election," the NEC said in a press release.
But the NEC said it will request the Constitutional Court for adjudication on competence over the BAI's action, maintaining its previous position that the BAI's audit into the independent institution is not in line with the constitutional spirit.
The election watchdog has faced increasing suspicions of nepotism after revelations that at least several children of former and current senior officials of the election watchdog landed agency jobs thanks to the influence of their fathers.
The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission has conducted an intensive investigation after allegations surfaced last week.
Earlier Friday, the state anti-corruption agency announced it will investigate all employment and promotion cases within the NEC over the past seven years.
"We plan to conduct a comprehensive investigation into all of the NEC's hiring and promotion cases from the past seven years," Deputy Chairman Jeong Seung-yoon told a press briefing, emphasizing the scope includes retired officials as well.
Jeong further stated that the agency will request a formal prosecution investigation and seek disciplinary action based on the seriousness of any irregularities. The agency will also pursue the cancellation of employment and promotion decisions.
A total of 32 officials will be mobilized for the investigation, which will involve a 38-day on-site inspection. The extension of the investigation period will be considered upon review, Jeong said.
In addition to the ongoing investigation, Jeong said that his agency has started receiving reports regarding other potential irregularities, such as abuse of power and budget mismanagement at the NEC. The deadline for submitting such reports is June 30.
The NEC's shift in stance also came as the ruling People Power Party increases pressure by passing a resolution demanding the resignation of all nine NEC commissioners, including Chairperson Rho Tae-ak, to hold them accountable.
"I am considering whether quitting immediately is a solution to everything or whether it would be a responsible attitude to resign from the chairperson position immediately," Rho told reporters before entering the NEC headquarters in Gwacheon, south of Seoul, on Friday.
He also said that he is not reluctant to give up his position.
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