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Prime minister nominee faces controversy ahead of hearing

Former Prime Minister Han Duck-soo (Yonhap)
Former Prime Minister Han Duck-soo (Yonhap)
Former Prime Minister Han Duck-soo denied allegations that he is unfit to serve again in the prime minister post for the Yoon Suk-yeol administration due to his alleged involvement in a problematic legal case.

Spec Watch Korea claimed after Han was nominated for the post that he should not be appointed as the prime minister for receiving 150 million won ($124,000) while working as an adviser for local law firm Kim & Chang from November 2002 to July 2003.

He is accused of helping the firm represent US private equity firm Lone Star, which faced criticism of taking advantage of South Korea’s economic difficulties during the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s by acquiring the Korea Exchange Bank in 2003 and selling it off for huge profit in 2012.

Han has said he was never involved in the Lone Star case while advising for the law firm.

“I will explain if there is a question about it during the confirmation hearing,” Han told reporters Monday. “Regarding the Lone Star issue, even though there was a part that I was involved in as a government policy executor, I was never involved during my time at Kim & Chang.”

Han has been rated as a solid pick for prime minister post due to his background in serving for both left- and right-leaning administrations. He is considered a strong figure to contribute to Yoon’s initiative to form a coalition government, not to mention his extensive career in trade and diplomacy.

The former prime minister experienced no trouble in passing the nomination hearing in 2007 for the Roh Moo-hyun administration and is expected to undergo smooth hearing as well for the latest nomination.

His administrative career is believed to have no taint to be criticized during the hearing, but what he did after stepping down from the public sector by completing his term as an ambassador to the US in 2012 could be the center of issue to be discussed during the hearing.

After completing his time as ambassador, Han served as the head of the Korea International Trade Association from 2012 to 2015 and worked as the third chairman of the Climate Change Center.

He also worked as an outside adviser for S-Oil from March 2021 and earned 80 million won, a record that also could serve as a hurdle for Han to return to the public sector.

Such a record has often been problematic for nominees in key government posts in the past, including former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn when he was nominated for the prime minister post in the Park Geun-hye administration.

By Ko Jun-tae (