The confirmation hearing for Constitutional Court presidential nominee Lee Dong-heub kicked off Monday with opposition lawmakers bombarding the former judge over the allegations raised since his nomination.
The ruling and opposition parties’ conflicting stances on Lee are also raising concerns that the Constitutional Court president’s post could be left empty for a prolonged period.
Lee Kang-kook’s term as president ended on Monday.
Some in the political arena have also raised concerns that the issue could hold up the opening of the extraordinary session of the National Assembly, which will in turn delay the procedures necessary for government reorganization, and for appointing the prime minister and ministers.
The main opposition Democratic United Party has been raising various allegations against Lee, ranging from irregular use of Constitutional Court funds and abuse of authority, to tax evasion and making an illegal political donation.
While Lee has admitted and apologized for minor misdemeanors such as falsely transferring his residence registration and using his state-provided vehicle for personal use, he has denied the more serious allegations.
Rep. Park Beom-kye of the DUP has alleged that one of Lee’s bank accounts received monthly deposits for six years totaling 250 million won ($236,000), and that money out of official funds was allocated to Lee.
“I do not know the technical term for the fund but I have submitted all bank books. I am the first to submit bank records to a confirmation hearing, and all funds were used according to regulation,” Lee said.
Park Beom-kye of the DUP also accused Lee of buying a first-class flight ticket for a business trip, then downgrading to business class and keeping the refunded amount.
“(The allegation) is untrue, and if proven to be true I will step down immediately. A Constitutional Court justice is required to use business class, and corresponding funds are provided,” Lee said.
Regarding questions over his wife’s accompanying him on five of the nine overseas business trips he took during his six-year term as a Constitutional Court justice, Lee said that she was functioning as a secretary “because the Constitutional Court has poor conditions” and that all expenses were personally covered.
Other alleged misdoings of Lee include plagiarism, breaking the foreign exchange regulations in funding his daughter’s overseas education, and taking overseas trips on workdays.
While he has denied involvement, he has been reported to have ordered junior judges to obtain gifts from Samsung Electronics for a year-end event while serving at the Suwon District Court in 1995.
In addition, DUP lawmakers have claimed that Lee may have transferred capital assets to his eldest son without paying the gift tax.
The large increase in the assets held by Lee and his wife between 2007 and 2012 has also come into question.
In 2007, Lee reported having about 130 million won in his name and his wife about 42 million won. Last year, however, Lee’s personal assets grew to nearly 600 million won while that of his wife more than quadrupled to 178 million won.
The DUP has also claimed that Lee’s nomination was a reward for taking favorable stances toward President Lee Myung-bak in the past, such as opposing a special counsel investigation into the investment company BBK.
In addition, his position that the Korean government was not responsible for supporting the suits filed by comfort women against the Japanese government has also raised controversy.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org