Park-defense minister nominee

SEOUL, March 20 (Yonhap) - Whether President Park Geun-hye will appoint her defense minister nominee has become a growing question amid fresh allegations that the retired four-star Army general lied about his stock assets.

Kim Byung-kwan, 64, has been under mounting public and media pressure to resign since Park nominated him to the top defense post last month.

Even before his parliamentary confirmation hearing earlier this month, the nominee was plagued by questions over his link to a local arms broker accused of influence peddling in a controversial project to import faulty German tank parts for the Korean Army. He also faced allegations of bribe taking, tax evasion and speculative real estate investment.

Kim failed to pass the confirmation process, leaving Park to invite strong public and opposition backlash should she choose to exercise her presidential right to appoint him regardless of the parliament's decision.

Amid the controversy, local media reported Tuesday that Kim has shares in an overseas resource developer accused of gaining favors under the Lee Myung-bak administration to win natural gas development projects in Myanmar in 2011.

The main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) threatened to take legal action against him for failing to disclose the assets during the confirmation process. Kim claimed to have forgotten to include them in his reports to parliament.

On Wednesday, DUP floor leader Park Ki-choon raised further allegations that Kim had traveled to Myanmar with a group of officials from the developer Korea-Myanmar Development Co. (KMDC) in January 2011, but deliberately removed the trip from his immigration records, which were submitted to parliament.

Park has been widely expected to appoint Kim so as to quickly tackle a growing security threat arising from North Korea's third nuclear test and recent war threats.

"There hasn't been a major change in the presidential office's general stance toward Kim," said one senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Others, however, held out the possibility that Park could withdraw her nomination.

"We're listening" to public opinion, said another official.

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