Two nominees to get grilled on land

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Two nominees to get grilled on land

Today and tomorrow, the National Assembly will scrutinize President Lee Myung-bak’s two cabinet nominees over their qualifications, and opposition lawmakers are already promising tough questions to both on real estate deals in their pasts.

A hearing to confirm Grand National Representative Choung Byoung-gug as the new minister of culture, sports and tourism, will take place today. Choi Joong-kyung, who was the senior secretary to the president for economic affairs, will be grilled tomorrow over his qualifications to become the minister of knowledge economy.

Choung and Choi were nominated to the posts on Dec. 31 when Lee filled the vacancies created from his botched cabinet shakeup in August. Lee’s earlier nominees for the two ministerial posts bowed out after skeletons in their closets were disclosed in confirmation hearings.

Lee’s latest shuffle, however, is going poorly too. His nominee for the head of the Board of Audit and Inspection, Chung Tong-gi, threw in the towel last week after losing the support of Lee’s own ruling party.

For today and tomorrow, Democrats will focus on a favorite attack line: allegations of real estate irregularities.

The Democratic Party said the family of Choi, the knowledge economy minister-nominee, had invested in real estate based on inside information about the government’s development plans. Choi’s wife purchased forestland in North Chungcheong in 1988 at the price of 49 million won ($43,945), and the government announced a development plan three months later and awarded her compensation for the land of 287 million won.

His wife and father-in-law also allegedly speculated in land inside a greenbelt zone in Daejeon in 1988. When the government purchased the land in 2010 to build roads, the family was paid compensation 15 times more than they originally invested.

The DP also alleged that Choi, who reported more than 2.7 billion won in assets, didn’t pay property taxes on an apartment in the wealthy area of southern Seoul for more than a year. The DP said Choi had failed to pay 2.25 million won for his apartment in Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam District from 2005 to 2006 and the district office had once been forced to confiscate his property rights. Choi paid the overdue tax in July 2007, the DP said.

“Choi’s case is a disgrace because it disappoints the people who work so hard to pay their taxes on time,” said DP’s Representative Kang Chang-il.

The opposition party also claimed that Choung, a three-term lawmaker named to be the new culture minister, and his wife speculated on land in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi.

Democrats allege Choung’s wife submitted false documents to purchase agricultural land with the lawmaker receiving unreasonably high compensation for part of the land when it was developed by the state into a road.

Choung denied the DP’s accusation, saying his family had long ties with Yangpyeong. Choung is a native and was elected three times to represent the area.

By Ser Myo-ja []

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