Finance minister, lawmaker hash it out on Assembly floor

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Finance minister, lawmaker hash it out on Assembly floor


Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon, left, and Rep. Shim Jae-chul, right, of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party clash over a budget records leak at the National Assembly Tuesday. [BYUN SUN-GOO]

Kim Dong-yeon, finance minister and deputy prime minister for the economy, and Rep. Shim Jae-chul of the Liberty Korea Party quarreled fiercely on the floor of the National Assembly Tuesday over the lawmaker’s access to fiscal and budgetary data without clearance and going public with it.

The contretemps was pre-ordained after the Economy and Finance Ministry recommended Thursday the five-year-term lawmaker be investigated by prosecutors on allegations that he acquired budgetary data without clearance and made some public. In return, Shim, a former TV journalist, sued the ministry for libel on Friday.

Kim was attending a parliamentary interpellation session in which cabinet members have to answer questions from lawmakers on the Assembly floor. Shim attended as a member of the parliamentary finance committee.

Reflecting the anticipation of fireworks, the hearing, which lasted 40 minutes, was aired live by many news broadcasters.

Shim has been attacking the Blue House with unauthorized budgetary information he obtained from dBrain, an online budget and fiscal data accounting system run by the Korea Public Finance Information Service, set up by the Economy and Finance Ministry.

Shim and his aides had access to the site with IDs given by the site because they were from the National Assembly.

Shim began his questioning of Kim by playing brief video footage reenacting his browsing of unauthorized information in his National Assembly office to make the case that he and his aides had not violated the law in accessing the government website.

“My secretaries opened the files without resorting to any means of illegal access such as hacking,” said the veteran lawmaker, stressing it was “100 percent” business as usual.

“We had access with just a number of clicks and there was no warning sign. The whole system was wide open. Since data was there and was accessible, I simply accessed it.” The lawmaker then asked: “Are you calling me a criminal just because I accessed the data?”

The finance minister, who was standing a few feet away, rebuked the lawmaker, saying Shim was continuing to discuss information he “obtained illegally.”

“To find that route [of access], it takes at least six different routes. And there is a warning sign that these files are only for the inspector general’s office,” countered the minister. Shim accessed the files, Kim claimed, “in spite of the warning [sign].”

Kim said information on the execution of public finances was “labeled as for the inspector general’s office.”

“And when it says it is for the inspector general’s office, you shouldn’t access it,” he said.

Kim revealed that Shim had downloaded more than one million unauthorized files on 190 occasions, exploiting loopholes in the site’s security system and demanded their return to the ministry.

On Shim’s stance that he and his team did nothing wrong legally since there was no hacking or foul play involved, the minister said it would be up to a court to determine whether Shim had violated laws.

With the fiscal and budgetary figures he obtained from dBrain, the journalist-turned-lawmaker accused the Blue House and government agencies for what he brands misappropriation of taxpayers’ money amounting to 245 million won ($219,000) in the name of operational expenses from May 2017 through last month.

Last Thursday, Shim argued that the presidential staff spent 245 million won in dubious circumstances, such as spending the money after 11 p.m. on weekdays or on weekends.

According to the lawmaker, the Blue House spent a total of 204.6 million won on operational expenses on weekends and holidays over a period of 18 months on 1,611 occasions. Another 41 million won was spent past 11 p.m. on weekends over the same period, raising questions about potential misuse of taxpayers’ money.

It took just hours for the Blue House to issue a rebuttal, calling the lawmaker’s allegation “far from true” and saying that he “didn’t even check the basic facts.”

The lawmaker issued a new attack on the Blue House, saying presidential staff went to bars during times of national emergency or mourning in a press release issued Tuesday.

“It has been discovered that Blue House staff went to a bar and paid with a credit card given to them for operational expenses during times like the [joint South-U.S.] Ulchi military drill and the last day of mourning for five victims of the Sewol ferry sinking [whose bodies have not been found],” claimed the lawmaker.

He went on to cite other cases in which he said presidential staff went to a bar during a time of national tragedy, such as a major fire at a hospital in Miryang, South Gyeongsang, last Jan. 26 that left 46 dead.

The Blue House issued a point-by-point rebuttal to Shim’s latest allegations.

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