Indiscretion by S. Korea’s first lady reignites calls for appointment of independent inspector

Posted on : 2022-08-22 17:30 KST Modified on : 2022-08-22 17:30 KST
The role of an independent inspector general is to monitor the president’s relatives and high-ranking officials, but the seat has been empty for more than 5 years
President Yoon Suk-yeol and first lady Kim Keon-hee stand in allegiance to the South Korean flag while attending the graduation ceremony of the 310th class of Central Police Academy in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, on Aug. 19. (Yonhap News)
President Yoon Suk-yeol and first lady Kim Keon-hee stand in allegiance to the South Korean flag while attending the graduation ceremony of the 310th class of Central Police Academy in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, on Aug. 19. (Yonhap News)

Amid mounting allegations that South Korean first lady Kim Keon-hee has handed out favors and meddled in appointments, attention is focusing on when an independent inspector general will be named to monitor President Yoon Suk-yeol’s relatives and high-ranking officials.

While the presidential office has promised to fully accept whomever the National Assembly nominates, the process is fraught since the leadership of the ruling People Power Party (PPP) insists that the board members of the North Korean Human Rights Foundation be nominated at the same time as the special inspector.

Following news that the head of a company that was recently awarded a private contract to remodel the new presidential residence in Seoul’s Hannam neighborhood had been invited by Kim to attend Yoon’s inauguration in May, the first lady faces allegations of handing out political favors, in addition to earlier charges about stock manipulation and resume padding.

But the position of independent inspector general in the Korean government has been vacant for six years now. The special inspector is the head of an independent body that’s supposed to monitor the president’s spouse and relatives (cousins and closer) and public servants at the rank of presidential senior secretary and above.

The National Assembly Act, passed in June 2014 during the presidency of Park Geun-hye, empowers the president to select one of three individuals nominated by the National Assembly to serve as independent inspector general. But no one has been appointed to the position since Lee Seok-su stepped down from the role in September 2016.

Moon Jae-in, Park’s successor as president, declined to appoint a special independent inspector on the grounds that the responsibilities of the position overlapped with those of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials.

Under Yoon, the presidential office is prepared in principle to accept nominations. “It’s not a question of whether or not the president will accept [the independent inspector]. If the National Assembly makes a decision, we will accept it completely,” said Kim Dae-ki, the president’s chief of staff, during a press conference on Sunday.

“More fundamental reforms are needed, such as establishing a private secretary to the first lady and appointing an independent inspector general to restore discipline among the president’s relatives and staff at the presidential office,” said Woo Sang-ho, interim leader of the opposition Democratic Party, on Friday.

There also seems to be support within the PPP for quickly appointing someone to the post. “There’s an even greater need for an independent inspector general since the senior secretary for civil affairs isn’t around anymore,” a first-term lawmaker with the party told the Hankyoreh on Sunday.

But the PPP leadership’s stance is that the special inspector’s nomination must be linked with the nomination of board members to the North Korean Human Rights Foundation. Song Eon-seog, the PPP’s deputy floor leader, drew the connection between the two in a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh.

“Nominating an independent inspector general is something we’ve been talking about since before the presidential election, and it’s something we’re willing to do. It’s the Democratic Party that needs to apologize to the public and give an honest account about why it didn’t make that appointment over the past five years. Something that should be explored in connection with that is [the Democratic Party’s] refusal to nominate directors for the North Korean Human Rights Foundation,” Song said.

Some think the PPP is attempting to shirk an unpleasant task. It would be awkward for the ruling party to make nominations for a position in charge of keeping an eye on the president’s relatives.

Lee Seok-su, as independent inspector general, obtained information about the Mir Foundation that proved to be the first thread in the influence-peddling scandal that brought down the Park administration. As Lee attempted to monitor Woo Byung-woo, the senior secretary for civil affairs, the two clashed, leading to Lee’s resignation one year later.

“The opposition party is trying to link the first lady [with the independent inspector general], but that’s politically charged. It’s not right for the party to bring up every last detail about what’s happening at Yongsan,” said a senior member of the PPP leadership, referring to the new location of the presidential office.

By Song Chae Kyung-hwa, staff reporter; Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter; Sun Dam-eun, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles