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(2nd LD) Election watchdog refuses state auditor's inspection into nepotism suspicions

15:43 June 02, 2023

(ATTN: CHANGES headline; RECASTS throughout with updates; CHANGES photo)
By Kim Han-joo and Kang Jae-eun

SEOUL, June 2 (Yonhap) -- The National Election Commission (NEC) decided Friday to refuse the state auditor's inspection into snowballing nepotism suspicions rocking the commission, saying it is not part of government agencies subject to such an audit.

The commission's board members unanimously made the decision at a meeting presided by Chairperson Rho Tae-ak at the agency's headquarters in Gwacheon, south of Seoul, convened to decide its stance on the proposed audit by the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI).

"The unified view of all NEC commissioners was that it is difficult to accept a BAI audit," the commission said in a statement after the meeting of commissioners. The watchdog has nine commissioners, including Rho.

The NEC stressed it has been a Constitutional practice to exclude the election watchdog from BAI audits, and the State Public Officials Act stipulates that the NEC secretary general should conduct inspections on personnel affairs of the election watchdog, not the BAI.

The election watchdog has come under suspicions that children of some senior officials landed agency jobs thanks to the influence of their fathers, commonly known as "daddy chance." The NEC secretary general and his deputy offered to resign last week, though they claimed no wrongdoing.

At least six similar cases of suspected nepotism have since been reported, including suspicions raised earlier Friday that children of four retired senior officials were hired for experienced positions at three different regional offices, where their fathers had previously worked.

Earlier this week, NEC Chairperson Rho apologized over the scandal, saying the commission will request a criminal investigation of at least four officials. Still, however, the NEC has balked at going through an inspection by the state auditor.

Despite the refusal, the NEC said it will cooperate faithfully with other investigations. On Thursday, the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission launched a one-month intensive investigation into suspicions of hiring irregularities at the election agency.

Shortly after the NEC's refusal, the state auditor BAI struck back, saying the election watchdog is subject to its audits as an administrative agency handling election affairs, though it has refrained from such audits, out of respect for the NEC's independence in election management.

"Acts of refusing or obstructing legitimate audit activities will be strictly dealt with, regardless of position or status, in accordance with Article 51 of the Board of Audit and Inspection Act," the BAI said in a release.

The BAI also said the clause of the State Public Officials Act does not mean the NEC should be excluded from BAI inspections and that the only organizations exempt from BAI audits are the National Assembly, courts and the Constitutional Court.

Meanwhile, the election watchdog announced a series of measures to uncover further hiring irregularities and prevent moral hazards within the organization in the future.

It vowed to finish the internal investigation, which has been expanded to include spouses and relatives, within this month. The commission will demand punitive measures against four public servants found to have been involved in the hiring irregularities.

An independent audit committee led by outside experts will also be set up within the commission, it said.

Rho Tae-ak, head of the National Election Commission (NEC), closes his eyes prior to a meeting on whether to accept the Board of Audit and Inspection's probe into the agency's alleged preferential employment of the children of a dozen senior NEC officials at the NEC headquarters in Gwacheon, south of Seoul, on June 2, 2023. (Yonhap)


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