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THE INVESTOR
October 24, 2019
Big Reunion

Finance

Whistleblower kerfuffle highlights 2017 debt buyback cancellation

  • PUBLISHED :January 03, 2019 - 16:58
  • UPDATED :January 03, 2019 - 17:01
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[THE INVESTOR] The commotion surrounding a proclaimed whistleblower’s suicide note on Jan. 3 has put the spotlight on the government’s decision to cancel a prearranged 1 trillion won (US$887.08 million) national bond buyback in November 2017.

Although it was thought that he had committed suicide, former Finance Ministry official Shin Jae-min was found alive at around 12:40 p.m. in a motel room in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul, hours after he sent a message to his close friend saying he intended to end his life. Shin was immediately carried to an emergency room nearby.

Police began searching for 32-year-old Shin at 8 a.m., an hour after he sent the text message to his friend. He had posted a similar suicide warning on his alumni’s online community page. 

Former Finance Ministry official Shin Jae-min is carried to an emergency room in Boramae Medical Center in southern Seoul on Jan. 3. Yonhap

Shin formerly worked at the treasury department of the ministry for four years until July 2018.

Through online posts, including on YouTube, Shin has over the past few days alleged that the Moon Jae-in administration attempted to deliberately increase government debt for 2017 and slow down economic recovery, despite a fiscal surplus of some 20 trillion won.

Part of the plan was the government’s abrupt cancellation of national debt buyback on Nov. 14, 2017, just a day ahead of the planned date, according to Shin. The government’s announcement, about 10 minutes ahead of the National Assembly session’s close, came without further elaboration.

The treasury market immediately responded to the news with heightened volatility. The three-year sovereign bond yield jumped 31 basis points, while the five-year state bond yield surged 32 basis points.

Alongside the canceled bond buyback, Shin alleged that the ministry had orchestrated a “big bath” accounting through additional bond issuance, so that it would raise the ratio of government debt-to-gross domestic product by at least 1.2 percentage points to 39.4 percent. The bond issuance plan did not materialize.

The Finance Ministry on Jan. 2 filed a complaint against Shin for leaking confidential information. It also claimed he was misleading the public as his views are based on a narrow understanding of policy decision making.

By Son Ji-hyoung (consnow@heraldcorp.com)

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