Lee gov't misused budget for Korean food promotion project: state auditor

SEOUL, June 21 (Yonhap) -- The previous Lee Myung-bak government misused the budget earmarked for its signature project led by the then-first lady to promote Korean food internationally and poorly managed related plans, the state auditor said Friday.

First lady Kim Yoon-ok pushed for diverse plans to promote Korean food overseas, spending some 87.2 billion won (US$75.59 million) from 2009 to 2012. But it has been criticized for poor management and failing to draw any tangible results.

According to the special audit by the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI), the agriculture ministry either arbitrarily diverted or misused some 24.3 percent of the budget and earmarked its fund without appropriate feasibility tests for each plan.

After one of its key plans to support the establishment of flagship Korean restaurants in New York floundered, for instance, the ministry redirected 5 billion won allocated for the plan to another one for research and contents development, according to the auditor.

The ministry had planned to spend the largest amount of the budget, or 36 percent, on projects aimed at boosting the overall competitiveness of Korean food, but it turned out to focus more on simple promotion, using 33 percent of its budget, some 7 percent more than planned, the BAI said.

Implementing its project to nurture "Korean celebrity chefs," the ministry was found to support unqualified applicants in violation of its regulations, the BAI said.

The audit agency launched a month-long probe into the case from March upon the parliament's call for the audit. Under the law, the auditor is required to report the results to the National Assembly within three months.

"The BAI warned the agriculture minister not to divert the budget without notifying relevant facts to the National Assembly and asked it to come up with measures to devise better budget plans based upon thorough feasibility tests," the auditor said in a statement.

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