2 cash-giving school officials given the sack

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2 cash-giving school officials given the sack

To root out gift-giving and bribery in the public education sector, the Education Ministry on Thursday dismissed two Seoul education officials who allegedly offered cash to former Seoul education chief Kong Jung-tack to help him pay back 2.85 billion won ($2.36 million) in election campaign bills from 2008.

Jeon Byeong-hwa, head of Seoul’s Bukbu District office of education, and Kim Tae-seo, head of Seoul’s Dongbu District office of education, were found guilty of offering 10 million won each in cash to Kong for a fund to repay his campaign expenses. The Seobu District education head, surnamed Hong, who was indicted for offering 1 million won to Kong but then got it back again later, will be reprimanded, the ministry’s disciplinary committee told JoongAng Ilbo.

Kong was convicted of violating campaign funding laws during the July 2008 election and was forced to step down from the Seoul education head post in October 2009 after the Supreme Court upheld the verdict.

He was forced to return 2.85 billion won in election campaign expenses the National Election Commission reimbursed after his victory.

“This is the first time that current heads of education district offices were dismissed for corruption,” an Education Ministry official said. “Some people sympathized with the two officials during the ministry’s disciplinary meeting, but the general opinion was that this issue shouldn’t be viewed from a personal perspective.”

The Seoul education office asked the Education Ministry to decide on the level of punishment. On Thursday, the ministry chose the toughest punishment, which is dismissal.

Education officials thought the two men would get lighter punishments such as demotion, suspension from work, or a pay cut because no sitting education officials have been dismissed for bribery in the past.

Experts said the ministry’s decision sent a strong warning to education officials who think accepting and offering cash is just a part of the culture to win promotions or other favors.

To restore public trust and root out corruption among public education officials, Seoul education chief Kwak No-hyun, who was sworn into office this month, filled seven of nine disciplinary committee seats with non-Seoul education officials.

“The Education Ministry’s decision has set a precedent that from now on any education office officials mired in corruption charges would lose their jobs,” a Seoul education office official said.

By Kim Mi-ju, Park Su-ryon [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]
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