Public isn’t impressed by action at Assembly

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Public isn’t impressed by action at Assembly

The past two public hearings ended with no tangible breakthroughs - Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong said he learned about presidential friend Choi Soon-sil’s existence “just recently,” while Kim Ki-choon, former presidential chief of staff, said he knew “only her name.”

For 25 hours, the 18-member bipartisan group of lawmakers in the special legislative committee, which was tasked to look into the political scandal, managed to gain those two new testimonies.

They had very little effect on the snowballing scandal that’s been rocking the nation since October.

One key problem, according to political analysts, was that each committee member was given only seven minutes to question witnesses, much less than the 30 minutes that was given during the iconic public hearing of 1988, in which a slew of new testimonies were unraveled from stiff chaebol owners in a different corruption case.

Committee lawmakers were able to request two extra five-minute rounds of questioning after their seven-minutes was up this week, but given the slew of allegations, pundits say this was also far too little.

The Assembly needs to “reduce the number of members on the committee and lengthen questioning time,” said Om Te-sok, a political administration professor at Seowon University in Cheongju, North Chungcheong.

Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea criticized the committee members for wanting to attract media spotlight. The hearings were aired live on national television.

“It’s hard to get team cooperation [within the committee] or really convince [witnesses] to speak out if everyone’s trying to play the lead,” said Rep. Hong.

He added that witnesses kept saying they did not know anything because they were well aware they simply had to “hold out” for seven minutes.

Calling Kim Ki-choon, former presidential chief of staff, to the hearing showed just how hard it was for several committee members to break from the habits they picked up from their former jobs in the legal profession. Kim was previously a prosecutor, lawyer and minister of justice.

Rep. Choi Gyo-il of the ruling Saenuri Party, a former prosecutor, was seen bowing deeply to Kim after the hearing adjourned for a break, to which Kim responded with a handshake and said, “You have a lot on your shoulders,” an expression of encouragement in Korean.

Rep. Lee Yong-joo of the People’s Party reportedly waited for Kim inside the restroom during break time and introduced himself as a “hubae (junior) from the prosecution.”

With the impeachment vote set for this afternoon, and no fruitful outcomes from past hearings, sources in the National Assembly claim the special legislative committee is now looking to seek redemption through perjury.

The offense of false testimony at a parliamentary hearing carries a heavier punishment than in criminal court. In the latter case, a violator can be punished with up to five years in prison or 10 million won ($8,620) in fines, whereas the previous case carries a jail time between one to 10 years.

Kim Chong, former vice minister of culture, sports and tourism, who is suspected of giving favors to Choi Soon-sil and her family, could be the first target.

Kim, who appeared for a hearing on Wednesday, denied accusations that he asked conglomerates to donate money to a youth education center for winter sports, where Choi’s niece Jang Si-ho, was de facto owner.

Jang’s youth center received 1.6 billion won in financial aid from Cheil Worldwide, an advertising unit of Samsung Group, and 600 million won from the Culture Ministry, fueling suspicions that the conglomerate and the ministry were forced to help Choi’s family business.

BY KANG TAE-HWA, YOO SUNG-WOON AND PARK SEONG-HUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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