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Blacklist hangs over Blue House

Environment Ministry allegedly aimed to fill ranks with loyalists
Feb 22,2019
The prosecution’s probe into alleged abuse of power by the former environment minister has expanded to investigate whether the ministry created a blacklist of officials for a political purge and filled vacancies with associates of President Moon Jae-in.

The prosecution is focusing its attention on whether the Blue House was aware of the practice.

The prosecution has been investigating a suspicion that officials of public companies and institutions under the supervision of the Environment Ministry were forced to step down to create vacancies for Moon associates.

The probe was launched after the opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) submitted a petition in December last year to investigate top ministry officials, including former Environment Minister Kim Eun-kyung, on charges of abusing their powers.

The LKP said the ministry had created a blacklist of 24 public servants based on their political inclinations, and used it to oust some of them. It also claimed that the Blue House was behind the purge and members of Moon’s presidential election campaign were appointed to the posts.

Following the LKP revelation, the ministry admitted it had created the controversial list in January 2018. It, however, insisted the personnel files were never used for an artificial reshuffle. The list contained 24 names, and 13 of them had years left to complete their tenures.

In January last year, Korea Environment Corporation CEO Chun Byung-Seong and other heads of public companies and institutions under the Environment Ministry submitted resignations en masse. At the time, Kim Hyun-min, a standing auditor of the corporation, also publicly complained he was pressured to step down. After a special audit against him, Kim resigned two months later.

Following weeks of investigation, the prosecution identified former Minister Kim as a suspect and banned her from leaving the country. The prosecutors said Kim was ordered to create the list and conducted audits against the listed officials to pressure their resignations.

The prosecution said its next step is investigating whether the Blue House was behind the scandal. Circumstantial evidences were found that show the ministry had reported to the office of the presidential senior secretary for personnel affairs about the list.

“The CEO and the standing auditor of Korea Environment Corporation stepped down before their tenures ended, and successors were named after Minister Kim was replaced [in October 2018],” said a former executive of a public institution under the Environment Ministry. “Kim was rarely involved in hiring process of successors.”

The prosecution said it will summon Kim again for further questioning. A raid to the Blue House, particularly the office of the presidential senior secretary for personnel affairs, is also a possibility. “We can consider a raid, after specific charges are confirmed against the presidential aide,” a senior prosecution official told the JoongAng Ilbo Wednesday.

The prosecution is also looking into the allegation that the ministry offered special favors to an applicant who had served at Moon’s election campaign. Before filling the vacancy for the standing auditor post at the Korea Environment Corporation, the ministry offered operation data of the company to Yu Seong-chan, allowing him to have a job interview in a more advantageous position than other applicants, prosecution sources said. Yu had served as a special advisor on environment policy to Moon when he was a presidential candidate.

Yu originally applied for the CEO post of the Korea Environment Corporation, but failed to pass the interview. He then reapplied for the standing auditor post and got hired. The JoongAng Ilbo contacted Yu, but no reply was given.

The Blue House defended the appointment practices of the administration, while expressing anger toward the media for likening the Moon administration to his predecessors by using the expression, “blacklist.”

“During the eight years of the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations, blacklists concerning 21,362 people were created and managed,” Presidential Spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said Wednesday. “But the list recently revealed by the LKP only concerned 24 officials, and only five resigned before their tenures ended.”

“It is the job of the presidential senior secretary for personnel affairs to consult with ministries on the directions of appointments,” Kim said. “If that is a problem, then there is no reason for the senior secretary’s office to exist.”

The LKP sneered at the Blue House for its double standard. “It is now defending the Environment Ministry’s blacklist as a legitimate checklist,” Rep. Lee Yang-soo, spokesman of the LKP, said.

Rep. Na Kyung-won, floor leader of the LKP, said Thursday that the prosecution must expand its investigation into other ministries. “The whole picture of this scandal is shown 58 days since the prosecution started the probe. Everyone knows that it doesn’t end with former Environment Minister Kim,” Na said, adding that there is a suspicion that similar blacklists were created at 330 more public companies.

BY SER MYO-JA, WIE MOON-HEE AND PARK TAE-IN [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]