Authorities looking into ex-presidential secretary

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Authorities looking into ex-presidential secretary

Police announced yesterday that they are investigating the former senior presidential secretary for education and culture over allegations that he ran an unapproved educational program while serving as president of the Seoul National University of Education (SNUE).

Senior Education Secretary Song Kwang-yong abruptly tendered his resignation on Saturday, just three months after his appointment by President Park Geun-hye.

The Seocho Police Agency in southern Seoul said yesterday that it is currently looking into 17 public and private universities over suspicions that those institutions under their former or current heads were running unauthorized educational programs.

SNUE, which Song oversaw between 2007 and 2011, is one of those schools.

Whether the probe played a direct part in his unexpected resignation over the weekend is unclear, and the Blue House has refused to disclose the reason for discharging him.

The universities under investigation stand accused of running overseas studies programs in partnership with universities abroad that were not authorized by the minister of education, in violation of the country’s Higher Education Act.

The schools are alleged to have accepted students for a program that promised them dual degrees, one from the Korean university and the other from the foreign university, if they spent a minimum of a year at the Korean school.

Controversy emerged after some schools were accused of charging and pocketing 20 to 40 percent of the tuition fee as a commission charge for the program. The majority of those universities no longer operate those programs.

The police made it clear that the probe was unrelated to Song’s personal life.

Still, questions have lingered over his abrupt resignation, which was tendered on the day President Park left for a week-long trip to Canada and New York and just a day after the 2014 Incheon Asian Games kicked off, for which he shared responsibility as top presidential aide.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) yesterday demanded that Presidential Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon offer an explanation for Song’s bizarre departure.

The educator was placed in the hot seat immediately after Blue House sources confirmed his nomination in June as a senior presidential secretary.

Various sources with the police and in the education sphere say the former professor was summoned by prosecutors for questioning in the current investigation on June 9, just three days before the Blue House nominated him, exposing a hole in the presidential office’s already disputed personnel verification system.

When he was appointed the same month, Song also stood accused of plagiarizing from one of his own students, a charge he vehemently denied.

The presidential office does not publicly unveil the nomination of its senior secretaries and staff under them until their verification period ends and the president subsequently appoints them.

They are not required to go through confirmation hearings at the National Assembly, which is mandatory for ministers and other significant government positions.

The closed appointment procedure is cited as one of several reasons for the administration’s chain of personnel failures, with problems with its presidential staff often belatedly surfacing following their appointments.


BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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