Ban names new spokesman 1 day before return

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Ban names new spokesman 1 day before return

With former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon retuning home today, a virtual campaign team for his presidential race was formed on Wednesday with the appointment of Ban’s spokesman, Lee Do-woo, a former journalist who covered Ban in New York, who held his first press briefing as spokesman just one day before Ban’s return.

“The main message Ban will deliver will be about forging national unity as well as his achievements at the UN,” said the former journalist at Ban’s office in Mapo District, western Seoul. Lee said the 10-member team formed in Mapo was not a presidential campaign team but a team tasked with helping Ban handle domestic activities, though some think it will soon transform itself into the official campaign headquarters if and when the 72-year-old former diplomat announces his bid.

Lee refuted reports that Ban took a $230,000 bribe from a South Korean businessman, saying Ban will outline his plan to take legal action against Sisa Journal, the weekly magazine that ran the report last month.

“Ban would like to listen to voices of many people in the country, particularly those in the low to middle classes and younger people,” said Lee. “Through active dialogue, he will consider ways to reach a consensus.”

Not until after the Lunar New Year holiday will Ban make political moves, said Lee, and until then, Ban will continue to listen to the people during his national tour.

Ban’s return comes amid rising questions over when and how he will lay out his plan to run for president on the back of strong approval ratings in most polls, as he is neck-and-neck with frontrunner Moon Jae-in of the Minjoo Party of Korea.

Ban will visit the Seoul National Cemetery on Friday to pay his respects at the tombs of the four former presidents. On Saturday, he will pay a visit to his hometown of Eumseong County in North Chungcheong to see his 92-year-old mother.

In the days running up to the Lunar New Year holidays, which begins on Jan. 27, Ban will visit places such as the Paengmok Harbor in South Jeolla, to pay respects to the victims of the Sewol ferry, and the grave site of former President Roh Moo-hyun in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang.

But Ban’s visit to these to places could also spark criticism that he has only decided to go there to boost his presidential prospects, in contrast to his earlier decision not to visit such places as UN chief, a decision that has become the target of criticism by the opposition.

Moon Jae-in supporters, in particular, have argued that Ban did not attend late President Roh Moo-hyun’s funeral in 2009 to avoid upsetting the conservative Lee Myung-bak government. Ban visited the late president’s gravesite in December 2011, but this did not alleviate the sense of betrayal felt by Roh supporters, many of whom will likely vote for Moon in the coming election. Roh is credited with helping Ban win the top diplomatic post at during his time in office.

Ban’s decision to not visit the Paengmok Harbor earlier as UN chief also fueled criticism that he was trying to avoid upsetting the Park Geun-hye government, as it was accused of bungling its initial rescue response to the country’s worst maritime disaster, which left 304 people dead.

On forming his campaign team, Ban was reported by the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday as saying he would put political operatives on the forefront of the team, rather than have career diplomats in top positions.

Ban also reportedly expressed his outrage at accusations from pro-Park Geun-hye members that he was turning his back on them and ditching the idea of a political alliance because of the political crisis that has led to Park’s impeachment.

Ban reportedly said such accusations were an affront to his dignity, according to JoongAng Ilbo. Ban reportedly told an associate that his relationship with Park was nothing more than any other relationship he had with other heads of states as UN chief.

While Ban and his team are ready to begin activity in Korea, probably to raise his presidential prospect, his younger brother and nephew were charged by U.S. prosecutors with bribery on Tuesday, sparking questions over what consequence the unfolding criminal case involving Ban’s relatives could have on Ban’s potential presidential bid.

The case involves Ban’s brother, Ban Ki-sang, and his son, Joo-hyun, who stand accused of conspiring to bribe a foreign government official $500,000 to sell a 72-story skyscraper in Vietnam owned by Keangnam Enterprises, for which Ban Ki-sang was a senior executive.

Ban’s spokesman, Lee Do-woo, said the former UN chief must have been deeply surprised by the bribery report and that he was likely to have had no knowledge of such a transaction. He did not elaborate further.

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