Fate of senior secretary Woo hangs in balance

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Fate of senior secretary Woo hangs in balance

The Blue House denied Monday a JoongAng Ilbo report that President Park Geun-hye has decided to replace her scandal-plagued senior civil affairs secretary to mend ruptured relations with the opposition and deal with the security crisis prompted by North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.

The JoongAng Ilbo reported Monday that Park decided to replace Woo Byung-woo, senior civil affairs secretary, before the end of this week. Following a series of corruption and power abuse allegations, Woo was investigated by the special inspector general under a newly established system to root out irregularities among high-ranking officials. Lee asked the prosecution to take up the case and continue investigating Woo on charges of embezzlement and abuse of authority.

Woo resisted public pressure to step down and Park made clear she wouldn’t fire her aide because of accusations.

“Park planned to decide on Woo’s fate based on the outcome of the prosecution probe, but she decided to fire him soon,” the JoongAng Ilbo quoted a senior source from the ruling party as saying on Sunday. “Park decided to do so because the National Assembly’s audit is about to end and she wanted to concentrate on the security crisis by ending the political confusion prompted by the Woo scandal.”

The National Assembly’s House Steering Committee is scheduled to hold an audit of the Blue House on Friday, and Woo was asked to testify before the lawmakers as one of 29 witnesses. The opposition parties vowed to grill him at the audit, but the Blue House insisted on a tradition that a civil affairs senior secretary does not attend such a session. Demands for Woo’s testimony, however, grew even from the Saenuri Party, and its floor leader, Chung Jin-suk, told Yonhap News Agency on Sunday that he should attend the session even just for a couple of hours.

“Park thinks accusations against Woo are groundless political attacks,” said the source. “But she decided to fire him to unite public opinion and restore the relationship between the ruling and opposition parties at a time of a security crisis.”

The Blue House flatly rejected the report Monday. “That is a completely wrong report,” Presidential Spokesman Jung Young-kuk said Monday. “It is not true and it is also abrupt.”

Speculation, however, grew that Woo will be replaced or resign from his post as the Blue House abruptly canceled a senior secretariat meeting scheduled for Monday.

Park’s approval rating has plummetted rapidly over the past weeks, fueling speculation she would have to replace Woo. According to Gallup Korea, Park’s approval rating was 26 percent in a survey conducted Oct. 11 to 13, the lowest since she took office in February 2013.

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

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