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GNP flings hard queries at its own leaders

Affairs, draft-dodging, real estate fraud and tax evasion! Oh, my!

July 20,2007
Lee Myung-bak, Park Geun-hye
Affairs, tax evasion, crooked real estate trades and dubious investments. These were only some of the accusations in the air as questions were hurled at the two leading opposition presidential candidates during an extraordinary live televised grilling they took from their own party yesterday.
The marathon hearing ran throughout the day on four TV channels as the Grand National Party’s Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye each faced three hours of questioning from a panel of 15 experts.
The oddest thing about the event may have been that the opportunity to raise scandalous charges against the two was an event organized by the GNP itself ahead of the party’s primary next month.
For the first time in history, the GNP raised pointed issues at its own stalwarts, pushing the envelope of public political inquiry farther than ever before here.
Recruiting Ahn Kang-min, once a star prosecutor, to lead the inquisition, the GNP said the point of the hearing was to verify the candidates’ abilities and to clear up numerous doubts that were clouding their chances to win the Blue House, something the party has failed to do in two previous elections.
But liberals saw it differently. They viewed it as a conservative high-wire act to preempt the mudslinging the party expects during the presidential campaign.
“It’s lame. Nothing new has been discovered,” said Yun Ho-jung, the spokesman of the Uri Party, at a press briefing after watching the first three hours of the session. “This hearing only taught the candidates to practice how they should defend themselves from accusations.”
“They [Lee and Park] were busy denying everything they were asked to answer,” said Jang Kyung-soo, a spokesman of the Moderate Unified Democratic Party. “What’s the point of holding a verification hearing?”
The hearing continued for more than six hours, starting with Park in the morning, handing over the baton to Lee in the afternoon. Some of the questions were painful.
Park, the daughter of former dictator President Park Chung Hee, was pushed to speak about her alleged relationship with a much older man many years ago.
When questions focused on her private relationship with Choi Tae-min, her political mentor and a pastor during her father’s regime, her voice trembled.
She said Choi was a “thankful person” who consoled her when she had to assist her father to administer the government in 1975 after her mother was murdered.
“Did you know that Choi had seven different names and had married six times? Did you know that he was a monk, who then converted to being a pastor?” the panel asked.
“No,” she answered.
“How can you meet someone as an acting first lady without checking up on the person first?”
“I don’t review a person’s life history before I meet someone.”
“You seem to be overly sensitive when Choi is mentioned.”
“People tell me Choi is a bad person and attack me for being bad because I must have some kind of link with him,” Park shot back. “How dare they say that I bore his child? Let those who spread such horrible stories meet their nemesis. If they find such a child, bring it to me. I am willing to go through a DNA test for them.”
Lee, a former Seoul mayor and the former CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co., is leading the polls, but he also faced a tough time.
“You purchased 408 acres of forest land in Okcheon County. Isn’t that real estate speculation?” the panel asked.
Said Lee: “No, the residents there wanted Hyundai to buy the land to build a town hall. But the company couldn’t, so I had to buy it for them, although it was useless,” he answered.
Said the panel: “Then you sold it to your brother-in-law. Was it not part of an illegal real estate transaction?”
Lee answered, “I asked him to sell it for me. I think he changed it to his name because he couldn’t sell it. So he bought it instead.”
The panel said, “You sold it to him for 25 million won. The price had been 90 million won.”
Said Lee, “He is a brother-in-law. I thought it was O.K. to give him a good deal.”
Lee said he was too occupied with overseas business trips at the time to speculate on land or get involved in such transactions.
“Why would I use other people’s names to buy and sell land when I could’ve done that myself as a businessman?” Lee said.
The panel was comprised of former prosecutors and a judge as well as accountants, professors and lawyers. For the past two months the panel investigated the candidates.
Park was also asked about a house she received as a gift from a businessman, and why she did not pay gift tax on the property. She said she did not think she had to worry about it.
Half of Park’s session revolved around Choi, who died in 1994. The panel wanted to know about Choi’s involvement in a children’s welfare foundation founded by Park’s mother. The panel pressed her on allegations Choi was involved in embezzling money from the foundation. She denied the charge.
The panel also grilled Lee on whether he evaded military service with a fake medical certificate and whether he used his former position as mayor to help a private company gain huge profits from a city development project. He denied all the allegations. Park explained how she saw both her parents assassinated. “It’s an unimaginable thing for someone to go through,” she said calmly.
“A person from a normal family will never understand this.”

By Lee Min-a Staff Writer [mina@joongang.co.kr]




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