By Chung Min-uck
Ahn Cheol-soo, an independent presidential candidate, is struggling to counter fresh allegations of past ethical breaches.
Political observers say that consecutive disclosures regarding possible wrongdoing in Ahn’s past will likely deal a blow to him as he gained popularity, in part, because he is perceived as an ethical person.
Local media reported Friday that Ahn evaded paying tax on a real estate transaction. Reports stated that Ahn sold his apartment in Sadang-dong, southern Seoul, for around 240 million won in 2000 but underreported the price as 70 million in order to evade tax.
Soon after the story broke, Ahn’s election camp acknowledged the matter and released a statement of apology. The software entrepreneur-turned-politician apologized Thursday over his wife’s avoidance of paying similar taxes in 2001.
“Ahn is willing to accept any legal liability regarding the tax evasion if there was any,” said Lee Sook-hyun, a spokeswoman for Ahn, in a radio interview. “Whatever the practice was back then, it was a bad move.”
Some claim that Ahn should not be criticized because many people at the time of the transaction regarded below-market-price reporting of real estate as a legitimate way of avoiding tax.
Another allegation is that Ahn plagiarized an academic paper.
Ahn submitted a paper for the academic journal of the Seoul National University’s (SNU) medical school along with two co-authors. According to reports, the paper is almost identical to a master’s thesis written by one of the co-authors in 1988, except for the title, some references and the fact that it was written in English.
Ahn was allegedly funded by SNU to write the academic paper.
In response, Ahn, cited comments by experts in a statement he released to refute the accusations.
“Having checked the two papers, the abstract, discussion and references are all different,” Lee Suk-ho, a professor at SNU’s college of medicine, was quoted as saying. “There is no problem with Ahn.”
“It is not a mere translation. There is new interpretation in the given data,” said Ho Won-kyung, also of the college of medicine. “It is also an obligation to publish a graduate thesis in an academic journal as well.”
Meanwhile, the ruling Saenuri Party criticized Ahn for the alleged plagiarism.
“It is not righteous and ethical for Ahn to copy a formerly published thesis and claim it as his work,” said Lee Sang-il, the Saenuri Party spokesman.
According to the conservative party, SNU referred to Ahn’s paper when appointing him as dean of Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology. He quit the post after declaring his presidential bid last week.
Rep. Moon Jae-in, the presidential candidate of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP), a potential ally to Ahn, downplayed the accusations.
“Mistakes should be pointed out,” said Moon. “But what should be considered are the different circumstances when those incidents took place. Biased verification is unacceptable.”