BAI reports Seoul's education superintendent for corrupt practices

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BAI reports Seoul's education superintendent for corrupt practices

Choe Jae-hyeong, chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea, speaks during a meeting at the National Assembly last July. [YONHAP]

Choe Jae-hyeong, chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea, speaks during a meeting at the National Assembly last July. [YONHAP]

 
The Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea (BAI) announced Friday that it had reported Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon to police over allegations of power abuse and corrupt practices in hiring teachers in Seoul.  
 
Cho was elected as the education superintendent of Seoul in 2014 and re-elected in 2018. During the election in 2018, he was the single unified candidate of the ruling party of Korea. His four-year term ends next year.
 
According to the board, Cho allowed five teachers who were fired for violating the Public Official Election Act to be re-hired in 2018. Four of the teachers were involved with illegally raising funds for campaigns during the 2008 election for Seoul’s education superintendent. One was found to have spread false information about a candidate during the presidential election of 2002.    
The BAI found that at least one of the five was a member of Cho’s staff during his election campaign in 2018.  
 
It was not long after Cho was re-elected in 2018 that he gave orders to the Seoul Education Office to hire the five teachers again, the BAI said. The human resources officers protested the order, according to the BAI, but Cho was said to have told the officers, “There is nothing wrong with hiring them” through a type of fast-track process, and that he forewent the usual hiring process which involves human resources officers.
 
The board reported Cho to the police for alleged violation of State Public Officials Act.  
 
“I will ask the board for another review, and will do my best to explain why I am not guilty,” Cho said in a statement he issued following the BAI announcement on Friday.  
 
Other officials of the Moon administration investigated by the board for corruption and power abuse allegations include former Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Paik Un-gyu.
 
The BAI last October found that the state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) decided to shut down the Wolsong-1 nuclear reactor in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, in 2018 due to a faulty assessment that deliberately underestimated the economic advantage of keeping it running.
 
According to the BAI, in April 2018, an official of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy in charge of nuclear power policy reported to former Minister Paik a plan proposing to continue running the Wolsong-1 reactor until the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission’s permanent suspension of its operation some two and a half years later.  
 
However, Paik was said to have reprimanded the official and ordered another review to enable an immediate shutdown of the reactor. This official, in order to implement the minister’s orders, in May that year reportedly met with the accounting firm overseeing economic evaluation of the reactor, proposing to tamper with the input variables. The official also was said to have reported to the office of the presidential secretary of industrial policy.
 
Paik, a professor of energy engineering at Hanyang University who served as President Moon Jae-in’s energy minister from July 2017 to September 2018, is also accused of being involved with the destruction of documents.
 
The Wolsong-1 reactor ceased operations in 2012, at the expiration of its 30-year lifespan. Moon’s predecessor, former President Park Geun-hye, however, decided in 2015 to spend 700 billion won ($635 million) to extend its lifespan through November 2022. The reactor subsequently resumed operations.
 
The KHNP abruptly reversed the plan in June 2018, prompting speculation from opposition party politicians that the decision was a political one to accommodate Moon’s nuclear phase-out policy. The National Assembly asked the BAI in September 2019 to investigate the legitimacy of the decision.  
 
The case has been handed over to the prosecution.
 
In another case, the BAI found that the Seoul Housing & Communities Corporation (SH), a state-owned company in charge of developing housing in the country’s capital city, failed to distribute public housing evenly across the districts.
 
The board announced Thursday that a lot of the new public housing complexes provided by the SH between 2018 and June last year were focused in Geumcheon, Gangdong and Guro districts in the city, even though there were increasing needs for public housing in other districts.
 
The BAI is also investigating the use of the government's Covid-19 recovery funds.
 
“Through our inspections, we intend to find out whether the government has been applying the finances effectively and transparently,” Choe Jae-hyeong, chairman of BAI, said in his New Year’s address this year.  
 
BY ESTHER CHUNG, YOON SUNG-MIN   [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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