South Korean PM, foreign minister nominees besieged over scandals at hearing

The nominees faced a barrage of questions from ruling party lawmakers.

Shin Ji-hye

Shin Ji-hye

The Korea Herald


Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo attends a parliamentary confirmation hearing on Monday in Seoul. Yonhap

May 3, 2022

SEOUL – The prime minister and foreign minister nominees on Monday were grilled by ruling party lawmakers over personal and family allegations at a confirmation hearing.

Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo, whose confirmation hearing resumed Monday after a boycott by the Democratic Party of Korea, responded head on to the allegations.

Lawmakers of the Democratic Party and the Justice Party bombarded him with questions about whether it was appropriate for him to work at major law firm Kim & Chang after retiring from public service, calling it a “revolving door” situation.

Han worked at Kim & Chang for eight months in 2002, earning 150 million won ($118,000) and 1.8 billion won from 2017 to 2021 as an adviser.

“From the public’s perspective, it is a bit regrettable,” he said. But Han denied any wrongdoing, saying he did not call or ask junior government officials or colleagues for favors.

Suspicions were also raised that Han made statements in favor of American private equity firm Lone Star during an international investment dispute between the Korean government and Lone Star in 2014.

At the time, Han said Korean society had too much negative sentiment against foreign capital, and that there was a problem with the parliament and media being overly nationalistic.

Rep. Lee Hae-sik of the Democratic Party said he didn’t understand how a former prime minister can “distort and denigrate the Korean people’s feelings about foreign capital,” claiming that Han’s remark had favored Lone Star.

Han explained that he did not directly make the remarks, but Lone Star used what he said in another place arbitrarily without context.

Similarly, Foreign Minister nominee Park Jin was also hounded by questions from ruling party lawmakers over allegations related to his son.

At Park’s confirmation hearing, the lawmakers interrogated Park about his links to Nsus Group, where his son worked until recently, and claimed that the company is an illegal gambling site operator.

“(At Nsus Group’s operating websites) people bet on cash and play poker. They built a server in Canada because it was illegal (in Korea),” said Rep. Kim Kyung-hyeop of the Democratic Party, and called for an investigation into the matter.

He said it is a bigger problem for Park to defend and protect the issue, demanding an accurate explanation and apology.

Rep. Kim Young-ho of the Democratic Party also claimed that Nsus Group’s affiliates are located in tax havens such as the Virgin Islands, Isle of Man and Malta.

“Many people do not know the reality, but just looking at this part, they cannot help but have doubts,” Kim Young-ho said.

Park did not deny the links and admitted that the issues are controversial, but repeatedly stressed that Nsus Group is a legal Canada-based company which develops game software platforms, and that his son was only a computer system administrator.

The Democratic Party also took issue with Park and Yoon Suk-yeol’s expression that they would “rebuild” the Korea-US alliance.

“Do you think the alliance has collapsed under the Moon Jae-in administration? The Korea-US alliance is stronger than any other government under the administration. I think the term was used incorrectly,” said Rep. Kim Young-joo of the Democratic Party.

Rep. Yoo Ki-hong said there have been concerns and criticisms about “humiliating diplomacy and low-profile diplomacy from the beginning,” referring to Yoon’s delegations that were sent to the US and Japan last month. “The expression of restoring and rebuilding the Korea-US alliance is not appropriate.”

At the hearing, Park reiterated his position on North Korea’s denuclearization and his negative stance on the issue of deploying US tactical nuclear weapons in response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

When Rep. Kim Ki-hyun of the People Power Party asked about his position on the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, Park said “the most important task for peace on the Korean Peninsula is to enhance the ability to deter (North Korea’s missile) expansion through close cooperation of the South Korea-US alliance.”

“The best way, for now, is to maintain the South Korea-US combined defense against North Korea’s provocations and threats,” he added.

Confirmation hearings for four other nominees for the ministries of finance, land, environment and culture were also held Monday.

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