Antigraft law hit by further protest

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Antigraft law hit by further protest

Two lawmakers of the ruling and oppositions parties who helped lead the passage of the controversial new antigraft law, which took effect last month, strongly criticized the anticorruption commission for abusing its power through an excessively broad interpretation of the law, leading to confusion.

Rep. Kim Yong-tae of the ruling Saenuri Party and Kim Ki-sik, a former lawmaker of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, served as secretaries of the parliamentary National Policy Committee at the time the National Assembly passed the Improper Solicitation and Graft Act in March 2015.

Saenuri Rep. Kim was critical of the commission’s authoritarian interpretation of the law, prohibiting a student from giving simple gifts to their teacher such as a can of coffee, carnations on Teachers’ Day or even a boxed lunch for a school field trip.

“The commission introduced new concepts such as determining that the relationship between a teacher and student has a ‘direct relation to duty,’ which does not exist under current law,” Kim said.

He added, “This is a disaster resulting from the egoism of the anticorruption commission as it used the implementation of the Kim Young-ran Law to try to expand its authority.”

The Anticorruption and Civil Rights Commission largely handles violations of this act, implemented on Sept. 28, often referred to as the Kim Young-ran Law, after the former head of the anticorruption commission who authored the initial draft.

This new act limits gifts and entertainment given to “public officials” - which broadly includes civil servants, lawmakers, teachers, journalists and their spouses - to meals worth 30,000 won ($27.33), gifts worth 50,000 won and wedding or funeral gifts worth 100,000 won.

It goes on to prohibit benefits even below these thresholds, however, if they are related to the direct duties of public officials.

Kim said it is problematic that the commission created this new concept of “direct relation to duty” and expanded those who can be targeted for punishment, adding, “Concepts that do not have a legal basis need to be abolished immediately.”

He pointed out that during a parliamentary audit on Tuesday, Anticorruption and Civil Rights Commission Chairman Sung Yung-hoon was questioned as to whether a teacher receiving carnations or coffee from a student could be punished.

Kim said that Sung replied, “Even if reported, realistically there is little value in carrying through with such punishment so the court will not be able to follow through,” calling the commission head’s response “irresponsible and contradictory.”

Kim Ki-sik said, “the commission’s authoritative interpretation has been too arbitrarily inflated,” adding that the Kim Young-ran Law rather needs to head in the direction originally intended.

“We knew there were problematic parts when the law was enacted,” Minjoo’s Kim likewise pointed out, “but it was political legislation.”

He added, “We were opposed to the law not distinguishing between civil servants and civilians, and prohibiting rightful requests by the people as illicit solicitations, but regardless of party affiliation we had no choice but to pass the law due to political reasons.”

When asked what was the most controversial issue raised during the passage of the bill in the National Assembly, he replied, “Lawmakers worried that the anticorruption commission may interpret the law to exceed what is stipulated by the law.”

He added, “But the commission is wielding absolute power through its broad interpretation of the law, to the point that the judicial sector is raising issue with the commission.”

BY JUNG HYO-SIK, LEE JI-SANG and SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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