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Anti-corruption watchdog launches probe into NEC hiring scandal

June 1, 2023 - 15:04 By Park Jun-hee
Chung Seung-yun, vice chair of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, briefs the press on the agency’s plan to probe into the unfair hiring practices by National Election Commission’s officials at the Government Complex Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s anti-corruption watchdog said Thursday that it has launched a full-scale probe into allegations that high-ranking officials at the National Election Commission used their power and position to secure employment for their own children within the state agency.

The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission said it would probe incumbent and retired officials and those previously acquitted from the election watchdog to look into employment practices. The commission said it has received relevant data from the election watchdog.

“The recent unprecedented situation of the unlawful hiring practices by the (officials at) NEC has upset the younger generation and citizens, and public anger has mounted after the allegations surfaced,” said Chung Seung-yun, vice chair of the commission, during a press briefing held at the Government Complex Seoul.

The allegations, which surfaced in early May, say election watchdog officials wielded their power and influence to help their children land jobs at the agency. At least 11 officials at the commission have reportedly recruited their sons or daughters as experienced hires, according to news reports.

On Wednesday, an in-house special audit committee of the NEC found instances of wrongful hiring practices in the recruitment of four senior officials’ children, adding that it would launch a joint investigation with an independent outside agency to probe all incumbent and former officials related to the matter.

The committee, however, refused to undergo an audit by the Board of Audit and Inspection regarding the hiring scandal, claiming that the NEC is not subject to inspection by the board. The State Public Officials Act stipulates that any audit of officials at the NEC should be conducted by the in-house executive, the secretary general.

Those under suspicion include NEC Secretary-General Park Chan-jin, Deputy Secretary General Song Bong-sup and other working-level employees. Park and Song last week offered to step down after the speculations surfaced, although they claimed no wrongdoing.

Song and Park have consistently rejected the allegations, emphasizing the hiring of their children was done in a fair and transparent manner and that their children received no favors since joining the election agency.

The anti-corruption watchdog also vowed to deal with such illegal acts sternly, saying the agency would stay committed to “determining the truth.”

Chung promised a thorough investigation and that officials who were found to have violated rules would get more than a slap on the wrist.

“The NEC must not refuse or interfere with any of the probes conducted by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission. The ACRC will closely report the details, even the trivial ones, to the public,” he said.

To regain public trust, Chung said it is necessary for the public sector to enhance the transparency of the entire recruitment process.

Following the scandal, the NEC also said it would consider either scrapping or reducing hiring for experienced positions.

Meanwhile, the ruling party and the main opposition party also called for a government investigation regarding the hiring scandal, citing the gravity and seriousness of the issue.

During the Supreme Council, Rep. Yun Jae-ok of the ruling People Power Party said that the party has decided to push for a parliamentary investigation into the allegations. Lee So-young, the spokesperson of the Democratic Party, told reporters Thursday that the party has decided to launch a special committee and hold a confirmation hearing regarding the allegations.