Embattled Woo cancels his summer vacation

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Embattled Woo cancels his summer vacation

President Park Geun-hye and most of her Blue House staff started their summer vacation Monday, but a scandal-plagued civil affairs aide canceled his plans amid growing controversies about his family’s assets.

Woo Byung-woo, senior civil affairs secretary to the president, was supposed to begin a five-day summer vacation on Monday. He scrapped the break as political pressure snowballed for his resignation.

“Although the media presented various doubts about Woo, none of them was an undeniable crime,” a Blue House official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “The president won’t replace Woo based on accusations.”

Another Blue House official said the president cannot do her job if she started changing officials based on rumors. “That is particularly true when the presidency is nearing its end,” he added. Woo faced a series of accusations throughout this month, starting with a dubious sale of his wife’s family estate to Nexon, a game developer. Jin Kyung-joon, a senior prosecutor accused of receiving bribes from Nexon, was suspected of arranging the deal, although Woo denied it. Woo and Jin are friends.

The ruling and opposition parties also demanded Woo step down for his failure to properly vet Jin when he was promoted to the director-level last year. Woo, as senior civil affairs secretary, is responsible for scrutinizing top public servants.

“Did the vetting system work when Jin was being promoted?” Rep. Chung Jin-suk, floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, said Monday at a party leadership meeting. “What has been done to eradicate such a corrupt prosecutor?”

Rep. Kim Chong-in, acting chairman of the Minjoo Party of Korea, also demanded Park seriously think about a reshuffle during her summer vacation.

Over the past three years, Park conducted major reshuffles after her summer vacation. In her first year in the office in 2013, Park changed five Blue House secretaries including her chief of staff shortly after the summer vacation. After her 2014 summer vacation, she conducted a reorganization of the cabinet. Army and police chiefs were also replaced. Last year, Park replaced her health minister and welfare senior secretary, holding them accountable for the botched government response to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak.

Meanwhile, Hwaseong City in Gyeonggi Province said Monday it has launched an investigation into farmland in Dongtan that is jointly owned by Woo’s wife and her three sisters on suspicion of farmland act violations.

According to city officials, the four sisters purchased two lots of farmland, occupying 4,929 square meters (1.22 acres) in total, in Dongtan in November 2014. “They submitted a plan to the city that they will use their own labor and hire some farmers to work the properties at the time of the purchase,” a city official said. “But speculation has been made that they did not use their own labor, so an investigation began.”

The probe showed that one of the two properties was located on a severe slope and designated as disadvantageous land. The designation allows the owners to use the land for tenant-farming.

“We will continue investigating if the other property is respecting the farmland law,” the official said.

If the city confirms a violation in the farmland law, the owner is required to sell the land within one year.

Hwaseong Mayor Chae In-seok is a member of the Minjoo Party. He was reelected to his post in 2014.

BY SER MYO-JA, KIM YOUNG-MIN [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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