SEOUL, The state audit agency said Monday it will take heavy disciplinary action amounting to at least suspension against one of its senor officials accused of using her status and that of her husband to demand that a U.S. think tank accept her as a visiting scholar.
After an internal investigation, the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) determined, however, that even though she breached decency as a government official, the case does not constitute an abuse of power, a decision that spares her from a criminal investigation.
The official, surnamed Jang, has been under fire following revelations of an email she sent in January last year to the U.S.-Korea Institute (USKI) of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) to ask for admission as a visiting scholar.
This was when the now-defunct USKI was still receiving funding from South Korea's government. Jang was ultimately accepted. Her alleged attempt to pressure the think tank surfaced after Seoul decided to end funding to the USKI, citing reasons that included the think tank's failure to provide a proper financial report.
In the email disclosed by an opposition lawmaker, Jang said she had already reported to the BAI that she was likely to be accepted as a visiting scholar and that the audit agency deemed it "a highly meaningful decision" to accept her into the institute.
She said she could "lay an important cornerstone to initiate exchanges between the BAI and the SAIS."
Jang also talked about her husband, Hong Il-pyo, who served as a senior aide to former lawmaker Kim Ki-sik. As a lawmaker, Kim took issue with the operations of the think tank, which has received annual funding from South Korea's government since 2006.
Jang said, "(If) Kim's behavior brought hardship to your institute, (my husband could become) a mediator and help you deal with issues through conversation." Jang's husband, Hong, later joined the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae after President Moon Jae-in took office.
The BAI has been looking into the case since the revelations more than two months ago.
The agency concluded that it was inappropriate for her to send such an email, but that it did not constitute an abuse of power because she made the request as an individual applicant, not as a director general of the BAI, officials said.
The agency plans to decide on the level of punishment for her at a disciplinary committee meeting next month.
Source: Yonhap News Agency