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Legislators go on the attack over leak of FTA document

Ministry admits sloppy handling

Jan 25,2007
The administration yesterday faced a counterattack from the legislature for what lawmakers called poor management of confidential trade documents. The National Assembly’s special committee on the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement met in closed session to discuss the leak of a document outlining Korea’s strategy for talks with the United States, which were being held in Seoul when its contents appeared in print.
Kim Jong-hoon, South Korea’s lead negotiator for the trade talks, testified before the committee; his remarks were promptly leaked to the JoongAng Ilbo by some of the participants. Mr. Kim reportedly said 45 copies of the briefing paper were printed; 30 were distributed to the members of the special committee during a briefing by the administration on Jan. 13. Another five were put in the National Assembly’s archives, and the other 10 were used by administration aides at the briefing.
The legislators were indignant about the finger-pointing at some of their number by the ministry and other administration officials, who contended, anonymously, that Assembly members were the source of the leak. They noted that 15 copies were available to people other than them, and asked whether one of those documents might have been the source of the leak. Mr. Kim reportedly defended the administration’s efforts to keep the papers confidential, but said an investigation was also being conducted of administration officials who had access to the paper.
Mr. Kim’s claim of due diligence on his part was challenged by legislators as well. They noted that the copy belonging to Lee Hye-hoon, a member of the conservative opposition party that favors a trade agreement, was not returned after the meeting. (Ms. Lee says she was called away early in the session and did not see or read the document.) Lawmakers complained that the Foreign Ministry did little more than place several phone calls to Ms. Lee’s aides seeking the document’s return. Two days later, on Jan. 15, the ministry declared the copy lost; on Thursday, it was in the left-wing Hankyoreh newspaper and Pressian news Web site.
Adding to the finger-pointing, a Democratic Labor Party lawmaker, Sim Sang-jeong, attacked the administration for singling her out as a suspect because her left-wing party opposes an agreement and the paper’s contents were given to two media sites that also oppose it. Her desk was adjacent to Ms. Lee’s in the hearing room. “I was named by some officials as the most probably source of the leak,” Ms. Sim huffed. “The administration must explain why it said the National Assembly was responsible for the leak.” By the end of the hearing, Mr. Kim had reportedly conceded that the administration bore the brunt of the responsibility for the problem.


By Lee Ka-young JoongAng Ilbo [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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