Audit agency to extend probe into controversial river project

SEOUL, May 27 (Yonhap) -- The state auditor said Monday it will extend the period of its audit by two months into a highly controversial public project to refurbish the country's four major rivers.

As a trademark of the previous Lee Myung-bak administration, the mega project costing 22 trillion won (US$19.5 billion) is aimed at helping prevent floods and promote tourism along the country's four major rivers - the Han, Nakdong, Kum and Yeongsan.

But it has long drawn criticism from civic activists and the opposition party for allegedly causing irreversible environmental damage and other suspected irregularities on the course of the construction of relevant structures, prompting the audit agency, the central government and the prosecution to launch separate investigations.

Upon the parliament's call for the audit, the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea (BAI) launched a probe into the project in February. Under the law, the auditor is required to report the results to the National Assembly within three months, and it can extend the period by up to two months if it fails to complete the inspection.

"The parliament asked us to conduct a probe into the four-river project on Feb. 28, and an investigation is still under way. We need more time to look through massive relevant data," a BAI official said.

The parliament raised suspicions of rigging the bidding for the construction of wastewater treatment facilities along the rivers, as "more than 97.5 percent of 36 facilities were successfully auctioned off, far higher than the average level of around 80 percent."

The BAI has also been separately looking into various collusion and corruption allegations surrounding the project since last year, while the government said last week it will launch a commission for the fact-finding survey and the assessment of the project.

The auditing agency also extended its probe into the state support project for the globalization of Korean food by two months. The Lee government had spent a total of 76.9 billion won since 2009 to promote Korean food internationally, but it has been under criticism for the poor management of the project, failing to draw any tangible results.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>