A collision looms over Prime Minister-designate Kim Yong-joon’s confirmation hearing scheduled for next month as the opposition prepares to highlight escalating allegations of ethical lapses and questions over his administrative capacity.
The main opposition Democratic United Party on Monday named lawmakers to lead the hearing session including sharp-tongued members like Reps. Jun Byung-hun and Hong Jong-haak.
“The allegations raised against Kim (show he is) far from what President-elect Park Geun-hye cited as the standards for her choice, such as constitutionalism or protecting the socially weak,” said DUP floor leader Rep. Park Ki-choon at a party’s meeting. “It is clear how (they) will face even a bigger misfortune if they attempt to avoid or give evasive answers.”
The DUP’s attack against Kim follows the disbandment of a parliamentary process last week to confirm outgoing President Lee Myung-bak’s appointment of Lee Dong-heub as the new Constitutional Court chief over ethical objections to the candidate.
Kim, the former Constitutional Court chief and currently Park’s transition team chairman, faces growing doubts over his accumulation of wealth, his sons’ exemptions from the military service, and his past controversial ruling.
Kim denied such accusations Monday.
“They shouldn’t be a problem … It’s not like they are bribery or embezzlement charges,” Kim was quoted as telling Munhwa Ilbo on Monday.
President-elect’s first appointment of prime ministers has often led to political tug-of-war at the National Assembly between the incoming administration and the opposition. It has led to a total of eight rejections so far, while the past three administrations all suffered delays in the final appointment of their first prime ministers due to political wrangling.
Critics point to the accumulation of properties by Kim’s family members during the 1970s and the 80s when real estate speculation was at its height. If the land lots were gifted by Kim’s mother as he had previously claimed, the opponents question whether the inheritance tax was appropriately paid.
The Prime Minister’s Office in charge of preparing for Kim’s hearing was gathering relevant data to back Kim’s claims but was reportedly having problems acquiring relevant information dating back to over two decades.
The opponents also question how Kim went on to work in Yulchon LLC in 2000 right after he left the Constitutional Court, a frowned-upon practice of former judges and prosecutors jumping into the commercial sector usually with lofty reward. A law was revised in May 2011 banning judge or prosecutor-turned-lawyer to accept a case involving their former organizations for one year since their job change.
Doubts also surround the exemption of military service for both of Kim’s two sons. His eldest was deemed unfit to serve in 1989 for being underweight. According to the Military Manpower Administration’s regulations at the time, a 164 to 165 centimeter-tall candidate must weigh less than 43 kilograms to be exempted from the service. Various reports suggest that the son is actually 170 centimeter tall with an average weight.
The second son was exempted in 1994 for having suffered from gout. Due to rampant use of the disease to dodge military service at the time, the MMA revised the regulations to exclude gout from the list of applicable diseases in 1999 unless accompanied by complications.
Kim also faces questions over some of his past rulings. The DUP pointed to the 1987 ruling Kim made as a Supreme Court judge on a case, in which a welfare center owner in Busan illegally held members and beat and starved some of them to death.
Kim reportedly returned the case to the high court that eventually led to a mere two years and six months of imprisonment, the DUP said.
The DUP said it was questionable whether Kim who made such a ruling could “truly represent the socially weak.”
Kim has been well-respected for what was praised as “balanced rulings” in the Constitutional Court such as by deciding that the ban against marriages between people of same surname and family origin was unconstitutional or that the prohibition against private tutoring was unconstitutional.
As allegations mounted, the ruling camp also expressed caution.
Former aide to Park, professor Lee Sang-don, criticized Kim’s appointment as prime minister saying that it was inappropriate for a former Constitutional Court chief to work for the president.
“The Constitutional Court holds the authority to adjudicate on impeachment against the president as well as the power to make final appeasement of the Constitution that the president must abide by,” Lee said in a radio interview.
The transition committee, meanwhile, scheduled a meeting and a dinner with the ruling Saenuri Party on Monday to seek for their cooperation.
By Lee Joo-hee (email@example.com