Opposition plays up pact to investigate Lee-era deals

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Opposition plays up pact to investigate Lee-era deals

The New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) went on the offensive Thursday against one of the former Lee Myung-bak administration’s primary policy objectives, pledging a thorough investigation into its overseas resource development ventures, which the main opposition claims wasted more than 35 trillion won ($31.8 billion).

The NPAD’s aggressive posture came a day after it reached an agreement with the ruling Saenuri Party to hold a special parliamentary inquiry into Lee’s overseas projects, which the opposition claims the Lee administration excessively promoted without properly screening their financial viability or true value as businesses.

“We need to find out through a parliamentary investigation whether these overseas resource investments were meant for the nation and the people or if they were merely used to enrich the families of former President Lee and those close to him,” NPAD Rep. Hong Young-pyo said Thursday.

Hong’s remark hinted the opposition will not shy from exposing what it considers to be a layer of deep-rooted corruption surrounding Lee’s “resource diplomacy.” A special inquiry would more than likely implicate former senior officials under the former administration.

The NPAD claims the Lee government poured a total of 41 trillion won into overseas resource development ventures, which included 25 trillion won from state-run corporations. So far the government has only recovered 5 trillion won from the investment.

A primary case cited by the NPAD is the sale of the North Atlantic Refining Limited (NARL), an oil refinery based in Canada, for 33.8 billion won earlier this year - just five years after the state-run Korea National Oil Corporation bought it for 1.2 trillion won. The deal resulted in a more than 1.15 trillion won loss.

The NPAD suspects there are many more similar cases that cost trillions of won in tax money due to the Lee administration’s unilateral approach during its five-year term. The opposition also suspects a tight circle of Lee loyalists benefitted from the projects.

Launching a parliamentary probe to investigate Lee’s resource diplomacy was a long-standing demand by the embittered opposition. The Wednesday deal, in which the ruling party agreed to open an inquiry that would inevitably target the Lee administration, was considered to be a concession on the Saenuri’s part.

The ruling party reportedly consented to the Assembly-led investigation as a way to coax the NPAD to the negotiating table to narrow down differences on reforming the debt-stricken pension system for government workers. The NPAD subsequently agreed on Wednesday to form a parliamentary committee to determine how far it should go in overhauling the contentious pension program amid strong backlash from civil servants.

Saenuri lawmakers in the pro-Lee faction within the party expressed their displeasure over the agreement, arguing that whether Lee’s expensive project failed or succeeded would need to be assessed over the long run.

“A parliamentary investigation into [Lee’s overseas resource development projects] is too early at this point,” Saenuri Rep. Choung Byoung-gug said in a radio interview with MBC. “Given the nature of the investments, it would still be a jackpot if only one of the 10 projects turns out to be a success.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr ]

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