President Park Geun-hye’s nominee to head the Ministry of National Defense faced tough questioning over his past record during a parliamentary confirmation hearing held at the National Assembly on Friday.
Since being tapped as the defense chief last month, Kim Byung-kwan, a retired four-star Army general, has been under mounting pressure from the public and the media for his controversial past activities and allegations of various ethical lapses.
The most troubling allegation focused on Kim’s previous work as a consultant for a domestic arms broker firm from 2010-2011 after retiring from the army.
The firm, which was involved in importing various military parts from Germany for the South Korean army, had been investigated by authorities in both countries for engaging in illegal lobbying and providing bribes.
Opposition lawmakers had labeled Kim as a military weapons lobbyist who yielded influence over his former subordinates still in the army in exchange for a hefty salary, but Kim steadily denied the charges.
“I was not involved in any kind of lobbying activities,” Kim said. “I have explained all allegations and apologized over my past mistakes.”
In addition, during his tenure as the commander of the 2nd Infantry Division, Kim received a warning from his superiors for reducing the penalty of his subordinates who were found to have taken bribes.
As opposition lawmakers mounted accusation after another, Kim tried to turn the table by focusing on the heightening military threat posed by North Korea, which recently threatened to call off the Armistice Agreement that temporarily put an end to the Korean War (1950-1953).
“I will establish a strong military and strengthen capability to guard against North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles,” Kim said in his opening statement. “If the enemy (North) provokes, I will strongly and sternly retaliate so they will pay a high price for that.”
By Samuel Songhoon Lee (email@example.com