South Korea's foreign ministry has ordered a diplomat stationed in Vietnam for more than a decade to return home, a year after a controversial interview in which he made allegations about the murky appointments of his two superior officials, an informed source said Monday.
Kim Jae-cheon, a South Korean consul in Ho Chi Minh City, claimed in the interview held in November last year with a local cable news channel that Choi Soon-sil, a longtime confidante to former President Park Geun-hye, played a role in appointing the top envoy in Vietnam and a consul general in Ho Chi Minh City.
"Kim was notified of the order to return home, and the official order will be made sooner or later," the source told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity. "The decision was said to have been made against Kim's wishes."
Kim has allegedly been ostracized by other staff there after giving the interview.
In the rare on-camera appearance, Kim alleged that Choi, who was at the center of a corruption scandal that led to the ousting of Park, recommended Jun Dae-joo as the South Korean ambassador to Vietnam in 2013. He also said she might have been involved in appointing Park Noh-wan in 2015 as consul general in Ho Chi Minh City.
Jun left office in April 2016. Park Noh-wan worked with Jun at the Vietnamese Embassy before he was named consul general.
Jun's appointment, in particular, raised eyebrows, since he had no background in diplomacy or public office. The foreign ministry explained at that time that he was chosen to bring in fresh blood.
|South Korean Ambassador to Myanmar Yoo Jae-kyung (Yonhap)|
None of the allegations surrounding the diplomats in Vietnam have been confirmed. The two in question also denied the claims.
A foreign ministry official said that Kim's return is currently "under consideration" and the final decision will be made "in the weeks to come." Asked if the interview might have been a factor in the decision, the official declined to comment.
Kim has worked in Vietnam for about 16 years and recently received an award from the Vietnamese government for his contributions to improving ties between South Korea and Vietnam, marking the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations this year.
He was said to have been ordered to return home earlier this year but argued against it, citing unspecified personal reasons.
The November interview drew keen attention as the country was in the midst of the snowballing scandal involving then-President Park and Choi, who are currently standing trial for extorting a large amount of money from businesses.
In April, South Korean Ambassador to Myanmar Yoo Jae-kyung offered to resign after it was revealed that he had been recommended by Choi. Kim earlier claimed that Yoo had been mentioned as a potential ambassador to Vietnam.
Kim In-sik, head of the Korea International Cooperation Agency, a state-run overseas aid agency, also delivered his intention to step down in the same month amid allegations that he was chosen by the same scandal-ridden figure for the post. (Yonhap)