Legislators accused of using audits for extortion

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Legislators accused of using audits for extortion

The National Assembly’s annual audit of the government in September is apparently serving as an opportunity for lawmakers to shake down businessmen for favors. Those who cough up can escape embarrassing interrogations at assembly hearings.

An official of a large corporation in charge of government relations said on Thursday, “It’s like a huge black market is held in Yeouido every September.”

The National Assembly is in Yeouido.

In business, government relations officers explain positions of companies to government offices and the National Assembly and gather relevant information to benefit their companies.

In September, lawmakers on committees are allowed to summon important businessmen to ask questions about their companies and their practices. The businessmen hate being summoned, and command their government relations officers to do anything to get them off the hook. That’s when the bargaining begins in the Yeouido “black market.”

One of the most common ways to escape being grilled is for a company to set up a foundation with civic groups supported by lawmakers.

According to sources, a proportional representative of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) once decided to summon the owner of two mid-sized enterprises and his family members to ask questions about payments from the companies to the relatives, supposedly for licensing fees.

According to rumors at the National Assembly, the lawmaker’s aide told the two companies that the owner could avoid a grilling if he donated a similar amount of money to a civic group the lawmaker once worked for.

The excessive payments for licensing fees given to the relatives was estimated at several billion won.

“I felt ashamed because her intention was so obvious,” a ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker on the same legislative committee said. “Because of those stinky deals, we are criticized even when calling really necessary witnesses.”

The NPAD lawmaker’s office denied the accusation.

“It’s nonsense that we are making deals by selecting witnesses,” an official at her office said.

Some other lawmakers are known to be using the interrogations to give special favors to specific companies.

A first-time lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party summoned presidents of five construction companies, saying they violated regulations by not spending 1 to 2 percent of construction expenses for safety and health management of construction workers.

Officials of the five companies visited the lawmaker’s office one by one. It was said that the representative’s secretary suggested, “Construction companies are not paying a subcontractor we know, and we will let go of your presidents if you solve this problem.”

After the subcontractor received money, the lawmaker retracted the summons of the construction company bosses. A government relations officer at a large company said, “It’s common that lawmakers summon heads of large companies and then negotiate with them about some of their subcontractors.”

Some others lawmakers have gone so far as to ask for sexual favors.

“Please understand that we can’t disclose all the details because we are worrying about possible retaliation,” said an official of a company. “A lawmaker summoned the chairman as a witness and his secretary kept bothering him afterward. We couldn’t resist when he asked for a prostitute.”

Analysts say this tawdry horse-trading reflects the structural flaws of the National Assembly’s audit of private business and the government.

“In the United States, a standing inspection body holds hearings when there is a problem and gives enough time for people to prepare explanations,” said Yoo Sung-jin, a professor of politics at Ewha Womans University. “We need to seriously examine the National Assembly’s audits in which lawmakers just scold businessmen and government officials for a short period of time.”

BY LEE KA-YOUNG, KANG TAE-HWA [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]
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