Park Won-joo, new senior presidential secretary for economic affairs who previously served as head of the Office of Energy and Resources under the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, is reportedly under investigation by the prosecution for allegations concerning a faulty assessment of the Wolseong l nuclear reactor. Critics point out that the appointment by Cheong Wa Dae was inappropriate since the Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office, which is investigating the case, is about to decide whether to indict Park.
Park appeared 16 times in the arraignment notice regarding the abuse of power case against former Energy Minister Paik Un-gyu. In the notice, Park was stated as the person in charge of the Ministry’s work on the early closure and shutdown of the Wolseong l nuclear reactor. In a telephone call with Mr. Jeong of the Office of Energy and Resources in April 2018, Park reprimanded him by saying, “Why those people (at Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power) keep saying it is economically viable?” and “Do you think the Wolseong l will be able to operate under the current administration?” Some employees at the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power heard him saying it since the call was on a speakerphone. The prosecution suspects that Park also pressured former KHNP CEO Lee Kwan-seop, who was against the government’s nuclear phase-out policy, to step down by the order of former Minister Paik.
A Cheong Wa Dae official defended the appointment, saying Park was not indicted and there was a recommendation by the Investigation Deliberation Committee to suspend the investigation. The prosecution did not drop the case but is yet to decide whether to indict Park. The appointment can be made after the prosecution makes an indictment decision. Furthermore, the recommendation by the Investigation Deliberation Committee in Aug. to suspend the investigation was regarding Paik’s allegations of inciting breach of duty, not regarding the case of Park. This is why Cheong Wa Dae is being criticized for presenting guidelines to the prosecution in connection with the indictment of Park.
Even considering that the current administration only has half a year remaining in office, it is not normal to appoint someone, who is under investigation by the prosecution, to a senior presidential secretary, no matter how urgent the situation is. It would be lack of common sense if the appointment was made knowing the circumstances, and if not, Cheong Wa Dae has revealed a major loophole in its personnel verification system. President Moon Jae-in should immediately withdraw the appointment of Park.