The Korea Herald


Parties stuck in standoff over presidential watchdog

Presidential office apparently more interested in power struggle than keeping eye on president’s family, top aides

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : Aug. 25, 2022 - 15:05

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President Yoon Suk-yeol (Yonhap) President Yoon Suk-yeol (Yonhap)

The process of appointing a special inspector to check for misconduct by President Yoon Suk-yeol’s family and senior secretaries is being dragged out, bogged down by bipartisan wrangling.

The presidential office, meanwhile, appears more interested in inspecting public officials, in what is seen as an attempt to grab more power.

A special inspector is responsible for examining the misconduct of persons who have special relations with the president, such as family and relatives of the president. The position, introduced during the Park Geun-hye administration, has been vacant since then-special inspector Lee Seok-soo stepped down in September 2016.

The special inspector was not appointed during the previous Moon Jae-in administration, which contended that its functions overlapped with the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials, or CIO.

Since the Yoon administration took office in May, the opposition Democratic Party of Korea began to demand the appointment of a special inspector as various controversies surrounding first lady Kim Keon-hee arose.

The Democratic Party recently proposed to start recommending a special inspector, raising allegations surrounding first lady Kim.

Floor Leader Park Hong-keun held a floor meeting at the National Assembly on Tuesday, saying, “We propose to the People Power Party that the process of recommending a special inspector should begin.” He added, “Many suspicions surrounding the president’s office have already exceeded the level that can be resolved only by a special inspector.”

The People Power Party agreed with the appointment in principle, but linked the post to that of the director of the North Korean Human Rights Foundation.

“The Democratic Party did not appoint a special inspector for various reasons despite our party’s continuous demands for the past five years, but now it is contradictory,” said Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, floor leader of the People Power Party.

“The recommendation of the special inspector and the director of the North Korean Human Rights Foundation should be made at the same time,” he said.

The presidential office said it is “waiting” for two main parties to recommend special inspector candidates and will “accept 100 percent” if it is decided by the National Assembly.

However, Yu Yong-wha, an invited professor at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said, “President Yoon Suk-yeol is unlikely to push for it because it is aimed directly at Kim Keon-hee’s family.”

First lady Kim and her mother have faced diverse allegations, including Deutsche Motors stock price manipulation.

“Currently, the government has no organization to monitor the president’s relatives. Because the CIO is not functioning properly, it is right to appoint a special inspector,” said the political commentator.

However, the presidential office now seems to be more interested in internal inspections seen by some as a power struggle between close aides to Yoon -- politicians close to Yoon and prosecutors-turned-officials.

According to multiple presidential office officials, the office has recently been under intense internal surveillance.

About 10 employees are under investigation by the Office of the Secretary to the President for Civil Service Discipline or have already resigned. Some predict that up to 20 people may already be subject to change at the presidential office secretarial and administrative officer level.

As many of them were handpicked by politicians close to Yoon, it is seen that former prosecutors in the presidential office are moving to keep the politicians in check.

As speculations arose, Kim Eun-hye, senior presidential secretary for public relations, denied them, saying, “The inspection is carried out along common sense lines.”

Regarding the progress of the inspection or the subject, she said, “I think you will understand that we cannot confirm.”