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In Mokpo, Sohn stages fiery denial of speculation claims

Jan 24,2019
Rep. Sohn Hye-won, right, a lawmaker accused of using inside information to make lucrative property investments in Mokpo, South Jeolla, holds a press conference in the port city Wednesday to plead her case. [YONHAP]
Rep. Sohn Hye-won, a lawmaker accused of using inside information to make lucrative property investments in Mokpo, South Jeolla, held a press conference in the port city Wednesday to plead her case.

The lawmaker spoke in front of reporters inside a dilapidated building soon to be torn down and replaced with an antique museum, which Sohn said a foundation chaired by her husband would donate to the public.

Earlier, Sohn explained that much of the land she has been accused of buying for speculative purposes was owned by this cultural foundation chaired by her husband. She said the land would be used to build a museum as part of the larger goal of rejuvenating Mokpo.

“I apologize to the people for these events that are creating noise over the entire country,” Sohn said in reference to the allegations, which she described as “stuff unworthy of discussion.”

That “stuff” has turned into an immense quagmire for the ruling Democratic Party (DP) as of late, to which Sohn belonged and from which she left last Sunday. Opposition lawmakers have taken the opportunity to hound the DP for its lax response to the scandal, which is widely seen as conflict of interest due to Sohn’s position as a sitting lawmaker and then-member of the legislature’s culture, sports and tourism committee. “Has a reporter from SBS News come?” Sohn asked, in reference to the broadcaster that first broke the story about her alleged use of inside information for speculation. “I’ve asked [organizers] to reserve a front row seat.”

Sohn said she did not understand why SBS made “false reports” behind her back, saying they could have asked her to explain the issue.

SBS and other local media reported that Sohn and her family bought dozens of buildings in Mokpo’s old city center after learning the area would be designated as a “modern history and culture site” by the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA), which boosted properties’ values.

Sohn’s decision to hold the press conference in Mokpo Wednesday may be a jab against the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), whose lawmakers, including floor leader Rep. Na Kyung-won, visited the city the day before to probe into the scandal. Na claimed that the government was putting in 35 billion won ($31 million) into renewing Mokpo’s old city center and that the Culture Ministry planned to buy 16 buildings - some owned by Sohn - there for 300 million won apiece, which is higher than their current prices. Sohn dismissed Na’s words as “ignorant” and denied that the Culture Ministry had any plans to buy the buildings.

Sohn also brushed aside allegations that she used her position to have the old city center designated as a cultural asset, and even derailed plans for the construction of high-rise apartments in the area for this purpose.

“All my life, I have never used influence on others for my own gain,” she said, reiterating claims that the allegations are unfair attacks on her character. Sohn also said she would donate all her pieces of antique furniture inlaid with mother of pearl dating from the 17th to 21st centuries, worth 10 billion won according to her, to the city and provincial governments of South Jeolla to prove that she doesn’t want to make a profit.

She did not, however, present conclusive evidence of her innocence throughout the press conference. Despite Sohn’s resistance to the allegations, opposition lawmakers are escalating their assault over the scandal and are hoping to connect it to the Moon Jae-in administration. On Wednesday, Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom was asked whether the presidential office would respond to calls for it to conduct its own investigation into Sohn’s case on the basis of her friendship with the first lady. Kim, however, ruled out calls for such an investigation, saying a Blue House probe into a sitting lawmaker would be an abuse of power.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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