Prosecutors asked to look into unlawful ad spending

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Prosecutors asked to look into unlawful ad spending

A Ministry of Education special probe team said it asked prosecutors to investigate former Saenuri Party promotions director and former presidential secretariat members for unlawfully spending 1.28 billion won ($1.17 million) in advertisement money to promote a state-authored history textbook under the Park Geun-hye administration in 2015.

Announcing its findings on Tuesday, the team revealed that the Park administration spent 56.6 percent, or 2.48 billion won, of the allotted 4.38 billion won budget for new state-authored history textbooks on advertisement.

Though most of the budget was for research and development, only 1.76 billion won, or about 40.1 percent of the budget, was used to that end.

In the process, the Park administration violated the State Contract Law, which stipulates that the government can only enter into contracts after a competitive bidding of multiple companies. But the then-Blue House secretariat for education and culture recommended companies to the Education Ministry.

During her presidency in 2015, Park pushed for a so-called “standardization” of history textbooks to remove leftist and pro-Japanese undertones from existing textbooks. The new version she promoted, however, was criticized for romanticizing the rule of her father and former dictator Park Chung Hee. President Moon Jae-in scrapped the controversial plan in the first month of his presidency last May, following Park’s impeachment.

The probe team discovered that the administration signed private contracts that were more like sponsorships with three television networks. Through these, it broadcasted promotional videos of the new textbook, claiming that the change was needed because “some existing textbooks don’t mention Ryu Gwan-sun,” a popular independence movement figure. It gave 100 million won to one broadcasting company to make one such advertisement.

The probe team also announced suspicions that advertisement fees were inflated because many of the companies the administration signed with subcontracted the work. Also, no prior assessment was made beforehand to determine whether better deals could be made.

The Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office is also investigating individuals alleged to have swayed public opinion both for and against the standardized textbooks.

A Sungkyunkwan University professor suspected of writing positively on the matter is now under investigation, while members of Liberty Korea Party, the new name of the Saenuri Party, have asked prosecutors to investigate opposition party members for possibly fabricating comments critical of the new textbooks.

“Then-minister and deputy minister of education have been exempt from investigations as they were not found to have violated any laws related to duty,” said the probe team leader. “If investigation finds that the national budget was undermined from this incident, individuals involved will be judged accordingly, regardless of the positions they hold.”

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