Minjoo lawmaker steps down to avoid penalty

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Minjoo lawmaker steps down to avoid penalty

After the leadership pressured her to quit over a nepotism scandal, a two-term lawmaker of the Minjoo Party of Korea gave up her affiliation with the main opposition party on Monday.

Rep. Seo Young-kyo, who represents Seoul’s Jungnang A District, submitted a written document to the Minjoo Party’s Seoul chapter on Monday to surrender her party membership. She also issued a press release to announce her decision and apologize to the public. “I consider the party to be my life and I decided to quit in order to save it from political burden,” Seo said, adding that she understands her move is belated.

“I disappointed many people with my thoughtless behaviors,” she said. “I apologize to the nation.”

Seo faced snowballing criticism after local media reported last month that she had hired her daughter as an intern in her National Assembly office for five months in 2004. The daughter was later accepted to law school and criticism grew that the internship could have aided her admission. Controversy increased when critics accused Seo of using her influence to get her daughter into law school.

The scandal worsened since she hired her older brother as the accounting manager of her supporters’ association and her younger brother as a secretary to the office.

Seo was also said to have plagiarized a part of her doctorate thesis. The lawmaker received her undergraduate degree in politics and foreign affairs, her master’s degree in public policy and her doctorate degree in East Asian studies, all from Ewha Womans University.

She was also accused of inviting her husband, an attorney, to a National Assembly Legislation and Judiciary Committee dinner and introducing him to senior prosecution officials and judges. It was considered inappropriate for possible conflict of interests.

As the onslaught of allegations continued, Seo stepped down from her position in the Legislation and Judiciary Committee. The Minjoo Party also started an internal audit to investigate the accusations, and the leadership pressured her to surrender her membership.

The audit concluded last week. The tribunal was scheduled to hold a meeting today to decide her fate, but Seo quit the party on the eve of the ruling.

Since Seo quit the party before the ethics tribunal began its disciplinary process, she can still return before her four-year-tenure ends if the party allows it. Under the party’s regulation, a member who quits the party during a disciplinary process is barred from reinstatement for the next five years.

Since Seo was an elected lawmaker representing a constituency, she will keep her seat in the National Assembly as an independent representative. The Minjoo Party now has 121 lawmakers.

It remains to be seen how other parties will respond to their own nepotism scandals. Since Seo’s case was publicized last month, more lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties were revealed to have put relatives on their payrolls. The National Assembly is creating an internal guideline to end the widespread practice.

A lawmaker is allowed to hire up to nine aides and interns for his or her office and their salaries total 445.5 million won ($387,796). The pay ranges from 77.5 million won for a senior aide to 17.6 million won for an intern.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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