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Political clash over state budget information leak deepens

Sept. 30, 2018 - 17:43 By Jo He-rim
The clash over a state budget information leak involving an opposition lawmaker appears set to escalate, raising concerns the National Assembly may again grind to a halt while a series of interpellation sessions are scheduled from Monday.

The presidential office and the Finance Ministry have pressed charges against five-term lawmaker Rep. Shim Jae-cheol of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party and his aides for accessing and leaking confidential government data on the state budget. Rep. Shim, who is a member of the parliamentary strategy and finance committee, denies the allegations and claims his office had accessed and obtained the data via appropriate channels. 

Lawmakers of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party visited the Seoul Centeral District Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul on Friday to protest against searching Rep. Shim Jae-cheol’s office a week ago. (Yonhap)

“They failed to manage the information saved on the internet and now they are blaming others for browsing them. Why did the ministry give log-in accounts to lawmakers in the first place?” Rep. Shim said Sunday.

On Thursday, Rep. Shim revealed that Cheong Wa Dae spent some 245 million won ($221,000) of operating expenses during holidays, weekends and late nights, which goes against government guidelines.

Cheong Wa Dae and the Finance Ministry pressed charges against five-term lawmaker Rep. Shim Jae-cheol of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party on Thursday, 10 days after the Finance Ministry filed a complaint against three aides of Rep. Shim for accessing and leaking confidential government data on the state budget on Sept. 17.

According to the operating expenditure of the presidential office from May 2017 to last month, the government spent 41.3 million won on 231 occasions during “abnormal hours,” after 11 p.m., and also used 246.1 million won on 1,611 occasions during national holidays and weekends, Rep. Shim said.

According to the government’s budget execution principle, presidential officials are banned from spending the operation budget late at night, on weekends and holidays.

Revealing another set of data, Rep. Shim also claimed presidential officials have been receiving participation fees for taking part in work meetings.

“According to the budget execution guidelines of the Finance Ministry, it is strictly banned to pay officials for participating in meetings in relation to their work,” Rep. Shim said in a statement.

Cheong Wa Dae immediately refuted Rep. Shim’s claim, saying the presidential office operates “24 hours, 365 days.” But Rep. Shim fired back Sunday, saying it is inappropriate for the government to violate principles.

The rival parties are also at loggerheads over the scandal. The Liberty Korea Party strongly denounced the prosecution and visited the National Assembly speaker’s room, the Supreme Court and Supreme Prosecutors’ Office to protest the investigation and search and seizure of Shim’s office.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea, on the other hand, submitted a punishment request against Rep. Shim, claiming his actions were illegal. Ruling party members of the parliamentary committee on strategy and finance have also demanded the resignation of Shim.

The scandal first broke out in early September, when Rep. Shim’s aides were found to have browsed unauthorized state information on dBrain, a digital budget and accounting system managed by the Korea Public Finance Information Service, established under the Ministry of Strategy and Finance. They claim to have accessed the information legally by logging into the program using the account provided by the ministry.

Shim’s aides downloaded the data of some 30 government bodies, including the presidential secretary’s office, prime minister and finance minister. The KPFIS found out about the leak on Sept. 12 and visited the lawmaker’s office on Sept. 14 to request the return of the data, according to the prosecution. But the lawmaker’s office rejected the request, saying they had obtained the information appropriately.

On Sept. 17, the KPFIS and Finance Ministry pressed charges to the prosecution against three of Rep. Shim’s aides, for leaking some 470,000 files of data from some 30 state entities.

Rep. Shim countersued Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon and Korea Public Finance Information Service chief Kim Jae-hoon for false charges.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office searched the office of Rep. Shim on Sept. 21.

By Jo He-rim (