Ministry unfairly helped 17 candidates, but gov’t is silent

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Ministry unfairly helped 17 candidates, but gov’t is silent

Although the prosecution concluded that the Environment Ministry offered preferential treatment to 17 executives of public institutions during their hiring processes, the government has no plan to fire them, the JoongAng Ilbo reported Wednesday.

The prosecution indicted Thursday former Environment Minister Kim Eun-kyung and the former presidential secretary for balanced personnel affairs, Shin Mi-sook, on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of business. The Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office said they had unlawfully intervened in the appointment processes of state-run corporations affiliated with the Environment Ministry.

According to the indictment, 17 executives were named as the beneficiaries of the alleged crimes. The prosecutors gave details on the 17 executives, including their names, information they received about recruitment processes and other special treatment they had received to get the jobs, indicating that they are also possibly suspects in the appointment scandal.

While Kim and Shin are facing trial, no immediate action was taken against the 17 officials, the JoongAng Ilbo learned, despite an earlier promise made by the Moon Jae-in administration. Last year, the government announced a grand plan to root out appointment misconduct at state-run companies and public institutions, making clear that the beneficiaries who received special treatment will be referred to disciplinary committees and fired.

The JoongAng Ilbo, on Tuesday, contacted the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Economy and Finance, which oversees the management of state-run institutions. The heads of the public institutions where the 17 officials are currently working were also contacted. Some of them did not answer the calls, while others refused to discuss the matter.

“We had no discussion yet about the fates of the executives,” said an Environment Ministry official in charge of the hiring process at public companies. A senior Environment Ministry official said questions about the matter should be referred to an appointment bureau director. This director then replied that he is not in a position to give an answer.

The Ministry of Economy and Finance said there is no legal ground to punish the beneficiaries of the rigged appointments at public institutions and companies. It said a head of an institution can be punished if they influenced the hiring process of the firm, but there are no legal grounds to punish a head of a public company if they were the beneficiary of corrupt appointment processes, the ministry said.

Lawyers, however, said that is not a satisfactory justification, and that the ministries were trying to please the Blue House. Speculation has been high that Kim and Shin abused their power to remove top officials at public companies who were critical of the Moon administration and filled the vacancies with the president’s allies.

“Executives and heads of public companies who received preferential treatment during the recruitment processes are subjects of disciplinary action because they have already disgraced their positions,” said Choi Ju-pil, a lawyer with expertise in criminal procedures. “They can be charged with obstruction of business.”

A former member of the Seoul Bar Association also said the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s explanation “legally makes sense, but is unacceptable if you are using common sense.”

Failed applicants said it is inappropriate for the 17 suspected beneficiaries of the appointment scandal to maintain their jobs and receive high salaries, as hundreds of people applied and failed to get the 17 posts.

“I have never dreamed that preferential treatment was given in the hiring process of the Moon administration,” said one failed applicant.

Prosecutors said they will reveal more specifics of the preferential treatment the executives received during the trials of Kim and Shin.

“It is a crime that clearly produced victims,” said a prosecutor.

Opposition lawmakers said they will hold the government responsible for the fates of the executives who benefited from the special treatment.

“If the government won’t fire them, the National Assembly will go after them till the end,” said Rep. Lim Lee-ja of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), a member of the Environment and Labor Committee. Another LKP lawmaker on the committee, Shin Bo-ra, also said the legislature will ensure that the executives who were involved in the appointment scandal will be held accountable.

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