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Book further complicates Chung’s political path

The ruling bloc’s plan to put up former Prime Minister Chung Un-chan in a by-election next month hit another snag as the woman at the center of several scandals accused him of unethical behavior.

Shin Jeong-ah, a disgraced former art professor whose fabrication of her academic record, embezzlement and affair with a high-ranking government official shook the nation in 2007, returned from prison with an autobiography including accounts of her meetings with Chung.

Shin claimed that the former Seoul National University president offered her a job as an SNU professor and the head of the school’s art gallery, and made “inappropriate” moves at her.

She wrote that Chung appeared to have no moral compass.

Chung flatly denied her claims, saying they were not worth giving a thought, but observers believe Shin already smeared the reputation of the former SNU chief who has enjoyed enough popularity to be named as the country’s presidential hopeful.

Shin unveiled her book at a press conference Tuesday while Chung was awaiting an answer from President Lee Myung-bak on whether he will provide full support for his current job as head of a nongovernmental commission and possibly, his future job as a politician as well.

Chung said Tuesday he offered to step down as chief of the Commission for Shared Growth of Large and Small Companies in a long letter sent to Lee and was waiting for a “response.”

Chung complained that despite the president’s strong will for mutual growth, the commission, partly funded by the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, lacked the resources and government backing to proceed with its goal. Knowledge Economy Minister Choi Joong-kyung has openly berated Chung’s proposal for “benefit-sharing” between conglomerates and subcontractors as unrealistic.

The presidential office Wednesday appeared yet to give Chung an answer.

“I have nothing more to say about that matter after what I said yesterday,” Lee’s spokesperson Kim Hee-jung said.

Kim said Tuesday that the president received a letter from Chung, but declined to elaborate on its content.

Chung, an economics scholar who rose to political stardom with his open criticism of government policies when he served as SNU president, has been coy about his political ambitions for years.

Chung has told reporters that he will not run in the by-elections next month, but many in the ruling bloc still haven’t crossed him out as a potential candidate.

“Differences within the governing bloc discouraged Chung from running in the April by-elections,” an aide to Chung said.

“But I believe he does have a lingering political ambition.”
Chung Un-chan
Chung Un-chan

Several ruling bloc heavyweights including Minister of Special Affairs Lee Jae-oh has been coaxing Chung to run in the by-election in Bundang on the Grand National Party ticket, while another group including Presidential Chief-of-Staff Yim Tae-hee is backing former GNP leader Kang Jae-sup for the same spot.

Some speculate that Chung may run in another district as two more constituencies in Seoul are likely to be up for grabs by the end of this month.

The Supreme Court is expected to uphold lower court rulings that annulled the election of lawmakers representing Gangnam-B and Nowon-A for violation of law on political funds.

But others believe Shin has already damaged Chung enough to push him away from politics for now.

A member of the GNP’s Supreme Council said the party no longer had a “Chung Un-chan card,” especially after what Shin wrote about him in her book.

Some in the governing bloc suspect that there may have been political intentions behind Shin’s mention of Chung in her book, noting the timing of its publication and the fact that a key member of the publishing company is a friend of a leading opposition politician.

“It seems highly intentional that the book came out now,” a senior member of the GNP said.

It appears to be a step to eliminate Chung so Democratic Party chairman Sohn Hak-kyu can have a chance to return to the parliament, he said.

About Chung’s proposal for benefit-sharing or profit-sharing between conglomerates and their subcontractors, Cheong Wa Dae has simply said that the issue can be discussed by his commission and that it wished Chung could continue his efforts for mutual growth.

The idea of benefit-sharing is to induce large companies to set aside a portion of the proceeds beyond their targets as incentives for their subcontractors’ job security or technological development.

Those who join the profit-sharing campaign will be given advantage in winning government contracts.

“In fact, many Korean companies are already doing it,” Chung’s aide said.

“Chung is asking to expand that and add pressure to the business giants.”

By Kim So-hyun  (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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