GNP says Chung ‘unfit’ to become audit board chair

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GNP says Chung ‘unfit’ to become audit board chair

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Chung Tong-gi, nominated to head the Board of Audit and Inspection, reports yesterday to work at a temporary office in Tongui-dong, Seoul. [YONHAP]

The ruling Grand National Party has deemed Chung Tong-gi, President Lee Myung-bak’s nominee for chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection, “unfit” for the position because of snowballing doubts over his political objectivity and questionable financial dealings.

“Through many public surveys over the weekend, it has been determined that Chung is unfit for the position as chairman of the BAI,” said Ahn Sang-soo, the GNP’s chairman, during a meeting with senior party members yesterday, according to party spokesman Ahn Hyoung-hwan.

Ahn said that the decision by the party’s Supreme Council to urge Chung to step down was unanimous.

“There should be fierce debate inside the party and out on whether placing a former presidential secretary in the BAI chairman position is right or wrong,” said Representative Suh Byung-soo during the meeting.

Representative Hong Joon-pyo said that “wrong reshuffles or the wrong government policies should be boldly righted through intense discussions.”

The conservative ruling party had stood by Chung when accusations were first made last week, but sensing public unease over Chung’s alleged ill-gotten gains, it decided to change its stance.

Aggravating the public is something that the GNP is trying to avoid, with presidential and parliamentary elections looming next year, and the party fears that supporting Chung could result in devastating losses for the GNP.

The nominee also has been under fire from the main opposition Democratic Party since last week for receiving high payouts from a legal firm he had worked at for seven months in 2007, just six days after he left his job at the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office in November of that year.

The money, about 700 million won ($622,000), allegedly had been given to Chung in exchange for using his political influence to enable the firm, Barun Law, to take on high-profile lobbying and insurance lawsuits during his time there. Chung had worked for Lee’s presidential transition team in December 2007.

After the initial allegations were made last week, Chung said he had done “nothing illegal” and that 300 million won of the money had been paid in taxes.

Chung has been working as CEO of the Korean Government Legal Service since 2009 after serving as Lee’s senior secretary for civil affairs from June 2008.

The Democratic Party also has said that Chung lacks political impartiality because he is seen as one of Lee’s confidants and was involved in last year’s scandal over the illegal surveillance of private citizens by the Prime Minister’s Office, a charge that Chung denied yesterday.

“President Lee should apologize for trying to nominate one of his own men as chairman of the BAI, and those responsible at the Blue House for the reshuffle should be put to question,” said Jeon Hyun-heui, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party.

Former BAI chairman and incumbent leader of the conservative Liberty Forward Party Lee Hoi-chang also said during a radio interview yesterday that the nomination should be withdrawn.

“This is very problematic,” Lee Hoi-chang said. “Even in normal companies, what do you think would happen if the boss hires his right-hand man as the firm’s auditor and allows slack management just to go unnoticed? The company would fail.

“In the case of this nation, it’s in the law that the duties of the Board of Audit and Inspection are to be separated from the Blue House. How could Chung possibly keep the BAI independent from the president when he is one of [Lee’s] closest [allies]? This infringes on the will of the Constitution and our laws,” Lee Hoi-chang added.

A Blue House official told reporters last week, however, that the administration had found no illegal financial movements like tax fraud or other legal problems in Chung’s activities.

“To the eye of the ordinary citizen, the amounts that are being talked about here can seem huge. However, we believe the misunderstandings will be dissolved during the confirmation hearing once Chung gives his explanations,” the official said.

Chung himself said over the weekend that “everything will be fully understood during the hearing.”

Chung’s confirmation hearing is set for Jan. 19-20.

By Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]


Related Korean Article [중앙일보]

“정동기 이르면 오늘 사퇴”
여권 고위 관계자 밝혀 … 한나라 최고위 "스스로 물러나야” 어제 공개 촉구

한나라당은 이명박 대통령이 지난해 12월 31일 지명한 정동기 감사원장 후보자에 대해 자진 사퇴를 공개적으로 요구했다.

청와대는 사전에 아무런 협의가 없었다는 점을 들어 한나라당 측에 유감을 표명했다. 한나라당과 청와대 간 논란 사이에 끼인 정 후보자는 “나중에 얘기하겠다”며 일단 입장 표명을 미뤘다. 여권의 고위 관계자는 “정 후보자가 이르면 내일(11일) 사퇴하겠다는 입장을 밝힐 것”이라고 말했다.

집권 4년차 1월 10일 대통령의 인사권이 관련된 문제를 놓고 여당이 집단으로 ‘거사(擧事)’하고, 청와대가 이를 비판하는 이례적인 상황이 발생했다. 당·청 충돌의 후유증은 작지 않을 전망이다.

한나라당은 이날 오전 안상수 대표와 최고위원 전원의 이름으로 정 후보자에게 “스스로 거취를 결정하는 게 국민의 뜻을 따르는 것”이라며 자진 사퇴를 촉구했다. 안형환 대변인은 브리핑에서 “안 대표가 지난 주말 국민 여론을 수렴한 결과 정 후보자가 감사원장으로서 적격성이 있다고 보기 힘들다는 판단을 내렸고, 최고위원들도 같은 의견이었다”고 밝혔다. 원희룡 사무총장은 이 같은 당의 입장을 청와대에 공식 전달했다.

정 후보자는 대검차장에서 물러난 뒤 법무법인에서 7개월간 7억원을 받아 ‘전관예우’ 논란이 불거진 데다 민간인 불법사찰 관련 의혹이 제기된 상태다.

청와대는 오후에 임태희 대통령실장과 관계 수석들이 긴급 대책회의를 열었다. 그런 뒤 홍상표 홍보수석은 “여당도 얼마든지 의견은 표시할 수 있다”며 “그러나 책임 있는 집권여당으로서 이번에 보여준 절차와 방식은 대단히 유감스럽게 생각한다”고 말했다. 특히 청와대 핵심 관계자는 “이 대통령이 오전 한나라당의 결정사항을 보고받은 뒤 굳은 표정으로 한마디도 하지 않았다”고 말했다.

정 후보자는 오후 늦게 서울 통의동 사무실을 나서며 “(19~20일) 청문회까지 거취 결정을 안 하느냐”는 기자들의 질문에 “그렇게까지 멀리 나갈 필요는 없다”고 밝혔다. 감사원 관계자는 “ 실정법을 위반한 것도 아닌 데다 사퇴 여부는 (임명권자인) 대통령의 판단이 있어야 결정할 수 있는 사안”이라며 “당장 사퇴 여부를 밝힐 상황이 아니다”고 말했다.

글=남궁욱·백일현 기자

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