Blue House official tied to defunding scandal

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Blue House official tied to defunding scandal

A Blue House official is in hot water over the cutting of funding to a think tank in Washington, the presidential office admitted on Wednesday.

The official is Hong Il-pyo, senior aide to the secretary to the president for national policy.

“Hong Il-pyo was placed on temporary discharge from his position weeks ago and is currently not participating in any meetings,” a Blue House official said. “His wife has also been relieved of her duties at the Board of Audit and Inspection [BAI] for her implication in the funding of the U.S.-Korea Institute [USKI] at The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.”

As an aide to Democratic Party lawmaker Kim Ki-shik in the National Assembly from 2012 to 2016, Hong was a central figure in the legislature’s inquiry into USKI’s finances, which are publicly funded through the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP).

In a policy committee meeting last August, Kim grilled the institute over alleged lack of transparency in its budget and management.

USKI is the Washington-based think tank specializing in Korean Peninsula affairs best known for its analysis of satellite imagery from North Korea. It is expected to shut down on May 11 after the Moon Jae-in administration decided to cut off funding.

The opposition believes Hong lobbied for this decision when he began to work for the Blue House last year.

Fuel was added to the controversy on April 19 when Bareunmirae Party lawmaker Lee Tae-kyu disclosed an email sent to USKI from Hong’s wife, surnamed Jang, offering to put in a good word on behalf of the institute with Representative Kim through her husband in exchange for a visiting scholar position there. Jang has also been accused of using her current position as a director at the BAI to add leverage to her candidacy. USKI eventually accepted Jang as a visiting scholar after its board reviewed her message.

As soon as Lee revealed the email, the BAI relieved Jang of her duties on April 20 and began an inquiry into the case. Jang had been seconded by the BAI to the National Assembly since March after her term as the visiting scholar at USKI ended.

Denying Lee’s accusation that Jang had exerted unfair pressure on USKI, the Blue House explained that Jang had been accepted by the institute on fair grounds.

But the continuing scandal has forced the administration to temporarily relieve Hong of his duties. However, “if Hong is found to be free from blame, he may return to his position,” said the Blue House official. He also added that Hong is awaiting investigation by prosecutors for violating the act on the collection and use of political donations and has been internally investigated by the Blue House’s civil affairs branch.

Meanwhile, a civic group has charged Hong and former Rep. Kim Ki-shik of improperly obtaining political contributions without proper notification to the government during Kim’s term as head of the Korea Institute for the Future, a Democratic Party affiliated private political think tank.

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