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Key presidential aide takes heat for outrageous attitudes

July 15,2017
A presidential aide is being asked to quit for outrageous statements, but President Moon Jae-in ignored the call, even from his own ministers.

Tak Hyun-min, a former adjunct professor at Sungkonghoe University and an event planner, joined the Blue House as a senior administrative staffer in the protocol secretary’s office. He is being criticized for a series of controversial and sexist remarks in books he authored since 2007.

In one book, he wrote that his first experience of sexual intercourse was with a middle school student and he shared the details with his friends. Using a condom, he wrote, is enough to prompt a doubt about having sex at all. In another book, he wrote about his support of prostitution, which is illegal in Korea.

After he joined the Blue House, a chorus of calls for his firing came from not only women’s groups and opposition parties but also the ruling Democratic Party and even two ministers. The Blue House, however, refused to take an action.

The presidential office was quick to refute media reports on Thursday that Moon had decided to fire Tak. “We never considered it,” a senior presidential official said.

In interviews with the Kyunghyang Shinmun, Tak offered an apology but made clear he has no intention to resign. “I don’t think demands for my resignation would be wrong,” he said, “but I think the time for my resignation is when I fail to perform my job.”

Former Justice Party Chairwoman Sim Sang-jeung issued the latest salvo on Friday. “I believe there will be a responsible action in the near future,” she said in an interview with MBC radio. “Korea’s gender equality level is the world’s lowest. Since Moon promised to be a feminist president, we must treat this issue gravely.”

Moon’s new minister of gender equality and family, Chung Hyun-back, said at a confirmation hearing on July 4 that she will ask Moon to dismiss Chung if she takes office. After her appointment, Chung attended a cabinet meeting on Tuesday for the first time and recommended the Blue House fire Tak.

Minister of Science, ICT and Future Planning Yoo Young-min also said during his confirmation hearing that Tak’s books were inappropriate and he will ask the Blue House to sack him.

Sources in the ruling party and the administration said Moon’s trust in him has worked as a shield. Tak is a confidante of Moon and was one of the few people who accompanied Moon on a trek in Nepal last year. On the trek, Moon decided to make his presidential bid.

Tak also planned and hosted various political events that featured Moon over the past years.

“We raised concerns about Tak through various channels, but received no response,” said a Democratic Party lawmaker. “Because we know Moon doesn’t want to talk about Tak, it makes it hard for us to raise the issue any further.”

A source at the Blue House told the JoongAng Ilbo that Tak is an important member of the presidential team. “There is no one like him who can express Moon’s political philosophy and messages through various events,” he said. “Tak is irreplaceable.”

“Image is important in politics, we can’t deny it,” said a political science professor who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But keeping an inappropriate official because of his productive ability is a risk. I can’t see a reason why the president is not firing him.”
BY SER MYO-JA, YOO SEONG-UN [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]