Shipping association accused of irregularitiesMore than two dozen lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties received financial sponsorship from the Korea Shipowners’ Association for five overseas trips in the past five years, a business report from the association showed yesterday.
The association’s office in Yeouido, western Seoul, was raided Tuesday by prosecutors over allegations that it was engaged in various irregularities in the wake of the sinking of the Sewol ferry, which has so far left more than 200 people dead.
Most recently, the association partially paid expenses for six lawmakers, including five-term senior lawmaker Kim Moo-sung and two-term lawmaker Park Sang-eun of Saenuri, to travel to Dubai last month.
A few officials from the association also accompanied some of the lawmakers, who are part of an 11-member forum led by Representative Park that is devoted to oceans-related businesses within the National Assembly.
The purpose of the trip, according to the association’s documents, was to commend soldiers within the Cheonghae Unit, a Korean naval task force responsible for protecting and escorting civilian and commercial vessels near the Somalian coast.
Last May, Representative Park and four others reportedly traveled around Indonesia and Singapore, with part of the expenditures sourced back to the association. Other members traveled to Hong Kong, China and Japan on separate occasions between 2009 and 2012.
Since 2009, the association also reportedly offered aides under those lawmakers rides aboard their vessels as well as trips abroad.
Revelations concerning the series of sponsorships has raised suspicions as to whether the association was lobbying the 11-member forum to propose the resolution it eventually introduced on March 31 that urged “policy-wise support for the marine industry to boost competitiveness for national economic development.”
The resolution specifically calls on the National Assembly to put a certain amount of funding toward the development of the marine industry and to maintain the tonnage tax system, which the government had planned to phase out by the end of this year.
The tonnage tax system allows ship operators to have their profits taxed at a certain rate based on the carrying capacity of their vessels.
A few lawmakers on the forum denied those allegations, however, while others claimed they didn’t know the financial support had come from the lobbying group and said that the association had been wrongfully accused.
“The Korea Shipowners’ Association paid for only part of the expenditures for the trip [to Dubai], and the fees also came out of our own pockets,” one of the lawmakers said.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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