Suspicions undispelled

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Suspicions undispelled

Confirmation hearings for seven nominees to head ministries for the Moon Jae-in administration have kicked off. The screening session began Monday with a hearing for Choi Jeong-ho, President Moon’s pick for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. But it only helped fuel various suspicions about his qualifications as head of the ministry instead of clearing them.

Choi had an expensive apartment in Bundang, an upscale town in Seongnam, Gyeonggi — and yet bought another apartment in Jamsil, southern Seoul. While serving as a deputy head of the Land Ministry, he obtained the right to live in another high-priced apartment in Sejong City thanks to his position as a top government official. Aside from his apartment in Bundang, he raked in about 1.5 billion won ($1.32 million) in profit through the purchase of the other two apartments in Jamsil and Sejong. On top of that, he gave his Bundang apartment to his daughter and son-in-law shortly after his nomination to avoid criticism for owning several homes. There are even rumors that he discussed the matter with the Blue House in advance.

Though he apologized for his “failure to meet public expectations,” Choi did not clear all the suspicions surrounding him. And yet he vowed to uphold Moon’s real estate policies and embrace the underprivileged at the same time. Given his track record of profiteering from real estate deals, that sounds like an empty promise.

No one can find fault with owners of several properties in a market economy. But it’s a different story for the minister in charge of real estate policies under an administration whose top priority is cracking down on real estate speculation.

Choi also wobbled on the thorny issue of constructing a new airport in the southeast region of the country. While serving as a deputy minister in the Land Ministry under the Park Geun-hye administration, he helped the government decide to expand Gimhae International Airport rather than construct a new facility. Now, however, he says he would reserve his position on the issue. Other nominees face similar charges, including suspicions of real estate speculation, overly pro-North Korea remarks, and acquisition of dual nationality for a son. The old repertoires of faked residential information to help children get into better schools or favors for military service seem rather trivial.

The Moon administration came up with even stricter standards for its high-level officials. But it has repeatedly violated them. We will closely watch if that’s the case this time.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 26, Page 30
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