Ideological division deepens over Kwak’s case
Seoul’s chief educator Kwak No-hyun attends a monthly meeting with officials at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, Thursday. Kwak is under pressure to resign over allegations that he bribed a rival candidate during last year’s election campaign. Korea Times photo by Bae Woo-han
By Na Jeong-ju
Embattled top Seoul educator Kwak No-hyun said Thursday he will continue to work with a “sense of grave responsibility,” rebuffing calls for his early resignation over ever-growing bribery allegations.
“I have already told the truth to the public. From now on, I will do my job more carefully and with greater responsibility,” he said at a monthly meeting with education officials.
“I feel an urge to talk about many things (about the scandal) here, but I will refrain from doing so. Whatever the truth is, I feel very sorry for the heartache all of you are suffering from this case.”
His remarks came as the prosecution plans to summon him for questioning as early as Friday over allegations that the liberal education chief paid rival liberal candidate Park Myoung-gee, a professor at Seoul National University of Education, in return for his withdrawal from last year’s election to choose the top educator in Seoul. Kwak won as a unified liberal candidate.
Right after the scandal erupted last week, he admitted giving money to Park, but claimed that it was not related to the election. Prosecutors brushed this off as an excuse to avoid legal responsibility and keep his position, saying they had secured evidence proving that at least 200 million won ($185,000) was given to Park for his withdrawal.
Later on Thursday, Kwak’s aides denied the prosecution’s claim, alleging Park demanded 1 billion won from Kwak one day before he dropped his bid, but that Kwak refused.
“It’s not true that Kwak engaged in any behind-the-scenes deal with Park over the candidacy. Park did demand money to repay debts he owed for his own campaigning, but Kwak rejected that,” said Kim Seong-oh, who helped manage the latter’s campaign funds, at a press conference.
“Park, however, gave up his bid and expressed unconditional support for Kwak on May 19 last year following a meeting with leaders of liberal civic groups. That’s what we know.”
The aides claimed Park, suffering from heavy debts, kept demanding “compensation” even after Kwak won the election.
The ideological divide is showing signs of deepening over the case as rival parties gear up for the Oct. 26 by-election to choose a new Seoul mayor. Oh Se-hoon resigned as mayor a week ago to take responsibility for his failed attempt to nullify Kwak’s disputed free lunch program for students.
Liberal groups have called for the prosecution to stop what they call a politically-motivated investigation.
They said the ongoing investigation appears to be targeting only Kwak and his liberal supporters and is aimed at affecting public sentiment ahead of next year’s crucial elections.
On the other side, conservative groups have called for Kwak’s immediate resignation. Scores of conservative activists have held rallies in front of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education for the past week.
“Kwak brings shame to all educators in the country. Bribery is a serious crime. He should step down,” reads a statement distributed to passers-by.
Earlier, the prosecution issued summons to two of Kwak’s aides who helped his election campaign last year. Questioning directed at them will focus on revealing the source of the money given to Park, a prosecutor said.
On Tuesday, the prosecution also grilled Kwak’s wife and her sister over suspicions that they helped deliver the money.
According to Kwak’s aides, the former law professor will soon hire a team of attorneys to defend him, suggesting he is preparing for a long legal battle. “He showed confidence in proving his innocence and told us not to be discouraged by this scandal and to work as usual,” an aide said.