Ex-KT chief faces query over hiring allegations

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Ex-KT chief faces query over hiring allegations

Prosecutors said they will summon the former head of telecommunications giant KT in the next few days over allegations that the company gave a leg up in hiring to the daughter of a prominent opposition lawmaker.

Last week, prosecutors arrested a KT human resources executive for allegedly giving the daughter of Liberty Korea Party (LKP) Rep. Kim Sung-tae extra points during the hiring process at the company in late 2012.

The detained executive reportedly told investigators that he meddled with Kim’s daughter’s recruitment process at the orders of someone much higher. According to a source within KT itself, this person is former CEO Seo Yu-yeol, himself a close associate of former KT Chairman Lee Suk-chae.

It is now suspected that Seo was commanded to give the order by Lee himself, a former career bureaucrat who served in the cabinet of the conservative Kim Young-sam administration as information minister in the mid-1990s. Prosecutors said Seo will likely be summoned for questioning over the accusation within the week, which may be followed by a subpoena for Lee and Rep. Kim.

Kim’s daughter began working for KT as a contract worker in April 2011 until she was put on the permanent payroll in late 2012. Yet the absence of her name on the list of candidates who passed the company’s written exam fueled speculation that her father had pulled strings to get her hired at the company, Korea’s largest telecommunications corporation.

According to KT’s labor union on Monday, Kim’s daughter was not the sole beneficiary of KT’s hiring malpractices. Citing a former human resources executive at KT, a spokesman for the union said it suspects six other candidates were improperly hired on the basis of their connections to high profile figures that year, as well as 35 of the 300 employees hired by the company in 2009.

“The means by which these hiring requests were made [by prominent figures] were through the office of the chairman and the management-friendly [separate] labor union,” said the spokesman. “Some human resources employees were even punished when they disqualified those candidates.”

Rep. Kim Sung-tae is a three-term lawmaker and former floor leader of the main opposition LKP, which has been vocal in its criticism of the Moon Jae-in administration over its alleged corrupt hiring practices at public corporations.

KT’s labor union also raised an allegation of conflict of interest regarding the son of current LKP chairman and former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who worked for the company’s legal team when his father was Justice Minister and investigated KT’s Chairman Lee over accusations he embezzling millions from the company.

“The father was responsible for investigating KT’s CEO [as Justice Minister], while the son was defending him,” the spokesman said. “Politically or ethically, this is not right.”

A parliamentary hearing on the KT hiring scandal is set to be held at the National Assembly on April 4, and a fierce back and forth is expected between lawmakers of the LKP and the other parties. Rep. Kim continues to deny that he put pressure on anyone to hire his daughter, calling the prosecution’s investigation a political ploy designed to bring him down.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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