(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 14)

Dig deeper into scandal
Gov. Lee faces tough challenges in presidential bid

President Moon Jae-in instructed a swift and thorough investigation into a simmering scandal surrounding a lucrative land development project in Daejang-dong, Seongnam City, Gyeonggi Province, Tuesday. It is the first time Moon has commented on the issue, indicating how seriously he takes it.

Moon is under pressure to reveal his position on the scandal, over which public sentiment has turned against his administration and the governing party. He had been silent on the matter, apparently wary of any potential impact his remarks could have had on the primary race of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) to pick its presidential candidate.

The DPK wrapped up the primary race, Sunday, electing Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung as its presidential candidate. Amid the brewing dispute over the scandal, Lee faces growing allegations about his possible connections to the scandal, as he set up the land development scheme in 2014 as Seongnam mayor as a public-private project for apartment construction.

Given the graveness of the case, the prosecution and the police should conduct a thorough investigation to lay bare the truth behind the scandal. Prosecutors are trying to get to the bottom of the case. On Monday, they summoned and questioned Kim Man-bae, a former journalist and major shareholder of Hwacheon Daeyu, an asset management firm involved in the project. The next day the prosecution requested an arrest warrant for Kim on charges of offering large bribes to city officials, lawmakers and judges in return for business favors.

Kim is also suspected of being responsible for Seongnam City’s losses worth 110 billion won ($92.2 million) by raking in most of the development profits by deleting a profit-sharing clause in an illicit manner in collaboration with Yoo Dong-gyu, then acting president of Seongnam Development Corp. in charge of the city-run project. Kim faces allegations that he gave Yoo 500 million won in bribes and promised to offer him 70 billion won in return for his cooperation.

Kim also allegedly paid a 5 billion won bribe to the son of Rep. Kwak Sang-do of the opposition People Power Party, in what was called severance pay to curry favor with the lawmaker, who had been a presidential secretary during the 2013-17 Park Geun-hye admninistration. Investigators presumed that Kim embezzled 5.5 billion won from his company to pay for the bribes. However, Kim has denied any wrongdoing. Yoo allegedly played a key role in the project as a close confidant of Governor Lee. As both Kim and Yoo have denied the allegations, the prosecution has been tasked to discover the truth with concrete proof.

Law enforcement authorities should mobilize all possible means by tracking accounts of the related figures and thoroughly analyzing their communications records, if necessary. This is all the more necessary for the prosecution, as it has been under public criticism for neglecting to dig deeper into the politically sensitive case.

The National Assembly, for its part, should embark on its own fact-finding mission to shed light on the case. If necessary, the ruling and opposition parties should make bipartisan efforts to draft a bill calling for President Moon to appoint a special counsel to reveal the truth about the scandal.

As Governor Lee has vowed to attend the annual National Assembly audit of his province, he needs to give a clear explanation about his alleged involvement in the scandal. If he fails to clear himself of any suspicions about the case, his presidential bid will be off to a rough start.
(END)

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