S Korea’s ex-PM in hot water over policy idea, scandal

Things have taken a definite turn for the worse for South Korea’s former Prime Minister Chung Un-chan.

Chung, who currently leads a government committee on “shared growth” between small and large corporations, told local media Tuesday he has tendered his resignation to President Lee Myung-bak after his policy recommendation became a lightning rod for criticism from just about anyone.

An economist who also served as president of Seoul National University, Chung recently suggested the government should encourage conglomerates to voluntarily share some of their “excess ” profits with their subcontractors that are mostly small businesses.

The idea met with hostility. Hong Joon-pyo, a top member of the ruling Grand National Party, said Chung’s profit-sharing scheme seems to be an “extremely leftist” idea.

South Korea's outgoing Prime Minister Chung Un-chan (L) leaves his office after his farewell ceremony in Seoul August 11, 2010. (Xinhua/Reuters File Photo)

Chairman of Samsung Group, Lee Kun-hee, dismissed the idea as an alien concept to him, echoing the general sentiment in the miffed business sector.

Economy minister Choi Joong-kyung, whose ministry partially funds Chung’s commission, also said the idea is “realistically difficult” to execute and practically asked the former prime minister to “stop talking” about the issue.

Before apparently offering to step down, Chung bitterly fought back, rejecting accusations that the idea smacks of socialism and questioning the government’s sincerity in promoting shared growth.

The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae has yet to officially confirm Chung’s resignation offer, while Chung canceled all official events he was scheduled to attend as the head of the commission. Though his roller-coaster public career might be reaching an abrupt end, many believe the embattled former prime minister has another chance in the bag: A political career.

The governing Grand National Party is reportedly considering tapping Chung as a candidate on its ticket for the by-election next month against an opposition heavyweight.

Chung has said he has no will to run for the election, but many observers are still convinced of his political ambition.

Meanwhile, the latest and perhaps the most embarrassing challenge awaits the beleaguered 64-year-old economist.

Shin Jeong-ah, a former professor whose fake academic record, embezzlement and a torrid affair with a top presidential aide in the previously administration shocked the country in 2007, made a rare public appearance Tuesday over her tell-all memoir that determinedly attacks Chung.

Titled “4001,” Shin’s identification number while serving a 18- month jail term for academic fraud and embezzlement, the book claims Chung practically courted Shin and seemed to have approached her with an ulterior motive in the first place.

She says in the memoir that she had turned down an offer from Chung, then president of Seoul National University, to help her become the head of the university’s art museum and a professor there.

Chung had denied similar charges in the past, but Shin wrote she “couldn’t help laughing” seeing Chung lying, saying he has ” zero” moral values.

Shin said in a press conference that some of the original content has been removed from the book for legal concerns, indicating she might have more to say.

In response, Chung said her claims are “not worth responding,” according to Yonhap News Agency in Seoul. “(It is) only a one-sided claim,” he reportedly said.

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