PM nominee pledges to give up problematic wealth

SEOUL, May 26 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister nominee Ahn Dai-hee promised Monday to give up more than one million dollars in his personal wealth and donate it to charity amid growing criticism that he amassed the money while practicing law last year as a former Supreme Court justice.

Ahn made the pledge to donate 1.1 billion won (US$1.07 million) during a televised announcement as criticism rose sharply that he earned the money in less than six months since opening a law office in July by taking advantage of his status as a former justice of the top court.

The decision is aimed at allaying the growing criticism amid concern it could even derail his nomination unless handled appropriately. The main opposition party has stepped up demands that his designation be reconsidered, claiming that he is unfit for the job.

Ahn said he originally made more money, but already donated one-third of it to charity.

"Even in light of the people's sentiment, I think the 1.1 billion won increase in my wealth over about one year since I began working as a lawyer is too much," Ahn said. "So, I decided to donate this to society too."

Ahn also said he is sorry that criticism has arisen over his wealth.

Ahn said he made the decision to give up the wealth to ensure that the issue won't pose problems to his efforts to firm up the social discipline and eradicate irregularities and corruption after taking office as prime minister.

"I had wanted to live a life without a single dot of shame, and I am sorry I was unable to do so," he said. "I will begin the reform with myself first. I will try to live a life for the sake of the nation and society with a mindset to devote everything."

The wealth Ahn made as a lawyer is expected to be the biggest issue for his confirmation hearing. Ahn was also found to have defended a company in a tax suit while at the same time serving as chief of the tax audit oversight committee under the National Tax Service.

In South Korea, retired prosecutors and judges are preferred as lawyers as they are more likely to win lawsuits because of their influence and connections with incumbent prosecutors and judges under the long-denounced practice, known as "jeongwanyewu," which means giving "honorable treatment to predecessors."

The opposition party called for withdrawing Ahn's nomination.

"I think the nomination for prime minister should be reconsidered," Rep. Kim Han-gil, a co-leader of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, told Yonhap News Agency.

Kim said Ahn is unfit for prime minister at a time when the entire nation is saddened with the tragic sinking of the ferry Sewol that claimed many lives of young students who were traveling to Jeju Island by ship as they couldn't afford to travel by plane.

"It goes against the people's sentiment that the prime minister nominee made 1.6 billion won in just five months, or 10 million won a day," Kim said.

Kim stressed that Ahn must have benefited from the "jeongwanyewu" practice, which he said is one of the ill practices in South Korean society that President Park Geun-hye has repeatedly pledged to root out to make South Korea a safer country to live in.

"There has been no precedent of jeongwanyewu in which one made such a massive amount of money in such a short period of time," he said. "I believe the nomination of prime minister must be reconsidered."

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