Making all kinds of excusesHong Joon-pyo, the South Gyeongsang governor currently under investigation for receiving 100 million won ($91,800) from a business tycoon who committed suicide, is only making things worse by trying to clear his name. His numerous explanations have only led to more questions of his ethical standards.
In the latest posting on his Facebook page - seventh on the case - Hong tried to make the point that he had not used any illegal funds in his campaign for the leadership position of the ruling conservative party in 2011. He argued that the 120 million won in cash he presented as funding for the campaign came from his wife, who had managed to save up 300 million won separately from what he had earned from private legal practice between 1995 and 2005.
He said he gave his wife what had been left over from the 40 million won to 50 million won he had received per month from the National Assembly while serving as the ruling party’s floor leader in 2008.
It is standard for the head of the standing committee to receive that kind of money to oversee National Assembly affairs. But the money does not come with the requirement that the recipient disclose how it is spent, making it extraordinarily difficult to prove if the money was misused.
But if what Hong said was true, he just publicly admitted to pocketing public funds for personal use. Lee Dong-heub, a judge of the Constitutional Court, had to withdraw himself from nomination for chief justice in 2013 amid allegations that he had been doing the same thing. Hong’s audacity to use a public account as a personal piggy bank - even as he amassed great riches from his private law practice - exposes the real lack of ethical standards among the political elite.
Hong has also admitted to another illegality by saying his wife had saved 300 million won in a bank safety deposit box.
Senior public employees are required by law to report their own cash and deposits, as well as those of their spouses, if they exceed 10 million won. Any false disclosure can lead to disciplinary action.
It is pitiful to watch a high-profile figure who had once served as the ruling party’s leader making all kinds of excuses, even putting his wife in the spotlight in a desperate attempt to clear his own name. Can’t anyone fall from grace while maintaining some dignity?
JoongAng Ilbo, May 12, Page 34