Scope of resource diplomacy probe still up in air

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Scope of resource diplomacy probe still up in air

Two chief negotiators from the ruling and opposition parties tasked with determining the extent of an impending parliamentary investigation into the “resource diplomacy” initiative pushed by the former Lee Myung-bak government failed on Tuesday to reach a compromise.

They agreed to hold another meeting on Thursday concerning the legislative probe, which will examine the effects of the Lee administration’s costly efforts to secure natural resources overseas and invest in energy projects. Resource diplomacy was one of its signature policies.

The two men currently stand at odds over whether the investigation should also include the preceding Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations in its scope.

Saenuri Rep. Kweon Seong-dong argued that every government should be subject to investigation for any potential misuse of public funds, noting that resource investments often unfold over the long term and that the two previous liberal governments had also participated in resource diplomacy ventures.

“We have enough time during the probe period to look into deals made by previous governments [prior to the Lee administration],” Kweon said before reporters prior to the closed-door meeting with his counterpart Hong Young-pyo, a member of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD).

Hong rebutted Kweon’s demand, however, calling for the investigation to target only the Lee administration, citing that they lacked the time needed to go after two previous governments.

While refusing to include the Kim and Roh administrations in the probe, the opposition lawmaker added there should be no limitation in who could be questioned by lawmakers in the parliamentary hearing.

“I do not wish to pinpoint [who should be called as witnesses]. But there should be no restraint. A special probe will not do any good if it spares key players because they were a former president or a sitting minister,” Hong said in a clear reference to former President Lee and Choi Kyung-hwan, the finance minister and deputy prime minister for the economy.

The opposition’s drive to call key officials who worked for the former president as witnesses was detailed in its internal strategy report for the upcoming investigation, the JoongAng Ilbo said on Wednesday.

In the report, the main opposition stated that it intends to call in Yim Tae-hee, Lee’s former presidential chief of staff; former Prime Minister Han Seung-soo; as well as former President Lee Myung-bak and his older brother Lee Sang-deuk for questioning.

While the NPAD is expected to pressure the Saenuri to accept its demand to have Lee testify, it is unlikely that the opposition will actually see the former president on a witness stand given the fervent backlash expected from Saenuri lawmakers, many of whom once served under his administration.

No former president has ever been questioned by lawmakers in a legislative investigation.

The meeting Tuesday came on the heels of a report released Friday by the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) concerning the acquisition of a Canadian oil refinery by the Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC), which proved damning to the Lee government and further emboldened the main opposition.

The board concluded in its report that the purchase of North Atlantic Refining Limited by KNOC for 1.37 trillion won ($1.24 billion) was made without proper due diligence. It also called out former KNOC President Kang Young-won, claiming that a miscalculation on his part had caused the state-run oil developer 1.33 trillion won in losses.

The NPAD cites the KNOC’s botched acquisition of the Canadian oil refinery in 2009 as a prime case in which taxpayer money was blatantly wasted, and has long criticized the Lee administration for pressuring state-run companies to vie for deals with overseas energy businesses.

The Saenuri, however, argues that the NPAD is trying to politicize the matter for political gains despite the fact that the two liberal governments before Lee also made efforts to secure overseas energy deals in an effort to increase the country’s resource production capacity.

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




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