(EDITORIAL by Korea JoongAng Daily on October 6)
Yoo Dong-gyu, a key figure in the land development scandal in Seongnam City, Gyeonggi, is believed to have caused hundreds of billions of won, or hundreds of millions of dollars, in losses to citizens. He was arrested on charges of potential breach of trust and bribery in connection with the lucrative Daejang-dong development project. Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung says the development project was an exemplary case of getting 70% of developers’ profits back. In the National Assembly’s audit of the government on Tuesday, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle clashed fiercely over the scandal.
As the main prosecutors in charge of the case are pro-government figures, this will not be disadvantageous for the presidential candidates of the DP. At the top of the law enforcement agency is Attorney General Kim Oh-soo, a staunch supporter of the Liberal government. But Yoo, a former acting chairman of the Seongnam Development Corporation, faces serious charges.
Many suspicions persist about past development projects across the city. In a development project in 2015, private builders raked in more than 200 billion won ($ 168.6 million) in profits after buying the site from a state-owned company and building apartments. In another development project between 2013 and 2016, the same members who participated in the Daejang-dong project made huge profits.
Those involved in the Daejang-dong project claim that the huge profits they have made are the result of the sharp rise in house prices under the Moon Jae-in administration. But house prices have skyrocketed in other places as well. They must explain why the controversy only erupts in Seongnam City.
Governor Lee, the ruling party’s presidential favorite, admitted his inability to supervise one of his aides over the Daejang-dong project. And yet, he stressed that the project should be praised, not criticized. On Tuesday, Lee even insisted that the city government was able to claw back in profits three times the total amount other city governments raised for their development projects.
Lee doesn’t feel responsible, even after his assistant was detained on suspicion of causing massive financial loss to the city. He casually called those involved in licensing large-scale development projects to developers as “devils.” Who are the devils now? Police eventually announced a plan to impose a travel ban on eight suspected people and examine their bank accounts. But a lawyer involved in the scam has already left for the United States, and police have yet to find critical evidence – Yoo’s smartphone. The police must remove all suspicion around the scandal before it is too late.