Published : 2013-03-03 20:13
Updated : 2013-03-03 20:13
Pressure is mounting on Kim Byung-kwan, nominee for the post of defense minister, to withdraw for the numerous allegations of ethical lapses he made when he was a senior Army officer. The main opposition Democratic United Party says he is not even qualified to defend himself at a confirmation hearing.
The pressure is coming not just from the opposition party, which is resisting the ruling Saenuri Party’s attempt to schedule his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly. In a turn of events, some senior lawmakers of the ruling party have joined the opposition party in calling on him to withdraw on his own.
One of the ruling party lawmakers lamented over the plethora of ethical problems attributed to Kim, a retired four-star Army general, when he said: “There are more than 20 suspicious cases (involving him), which is more than enough reason for him to quit.”
The lawmaker said his refusal to quit would prove to be a major burden for the new Park Geun-hye administration.
Another lawmaker was more critical. He said, “It was a serious problem (for President Park) to nominate such a flawed person (for the ministerial post) in the first place. But if he had an iota of conscience as a former public officeholder, he should have declined the nomination offer.”
The worst of his problems is a claim that he lobbied the government for the import of German-made battle tank power packs (engines and transmissions) on behalf of an arms dealer after he retired as an Army general. He was paid 200 million won as a non-resident adviser for UBM Tech, a South Korean brokerage for the German arms company MTU. But Kim, who denied the lobbying attempts, said his service was limited to the provision of advice on the construction of a factory in a joint venture.
Another serious allegation was the use of insider information in his purchase of land in the name of his wife in 1985. When he was the commander of an artillery battalion in Gyeonggi Province, he bought a plot of land in an area near his battalion, where development was banned for the protection of military facilities in the area. The land price soared when the ban was lifted later for the construction of a new town.
Kim said he bought the land not for speculation but for the purpose of living there. But whether or not he bought the land for a huge profit was not as important as whether or not he used insider information for the purchase. Here, he has been unable to give any clear explanation, nor has he made clear why he bought the land in his wife’s name.
Other proven and alleged ethical lapses ranged from the provision of land for his two sons without paying gift taxes, and bogus residence registrations to the undue use of influence in favor of a cement manufacturer as one of its outside board members.
The opposition party, which is demanding that Kim withdraws before the confirmation process turns messy, is vocal in its opposition to the ruling party’s proposal to hold a confirmation hearing as soon as possible. But the ruling party insists that he be given an opportunity to defend himself.
The opposition party’s decision to boycott the ruling party’s proposal has a serious drawback, though it may appeal to the general public. If no confirmation hearing is held within 20 days of a ministerial nomination, the president has the power thereafter to appoint the nominee to the post anytime.
Moreover, President Park appears to have no intention to cancel Kim’s nomination, no matter how blemished her selection is alleged to be. She gave such an impression when she wanted him to accompany her when she visited the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command shortly before her inauguration on Feb. 25. Kim also says he has no intention of withdrawing unless he is told by the president to do so.
But it is time for Kim to quit voluntarily. His appointment to the post of defense minister would hardly help enhance military morale. Quite a few retired generals, including a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former Army chief of staff, are already on the record in calling for his withdrawal. They agreed he would hardly elicit respect from his subordinates as defense minister.