[EDITORIALS]Clarify real estate transactionWith civil servants’ assets now legally required to be made public, Lee Hun-jai, minister of finance and economy, is facing suspicions that he engaged in real estate speculation.
The value of Mr. Lee’s property increased 470 million won ($467,000) last year; its increase in the past seven years amounts to 6.6 billion won over the amount registered in 1998 when he was appointed as the chairman of the Financial Supervisory Commission. The increase was mostly from the profit he gained from the sales of real estate in his possession.
What matters is the suspicion that his wife changed her residency documents to Gwangju when she purchased land there. If it proves to be true, his moral standing and credibility as the head of the economic branch of the government that supervises real estate policy will be greatly damaged.
Mr. Lee explained through the ministry’s spokesman that his wife bought the land in 1979 when they went abroad to study. He said they didn’t know that the registration was changed. He emphasized that he did not buy and sell real estate often to profit from such sales. Instead, they sold the land after holding it for 24 years. There is no problem, he said, as he had no intention to speculate in land.
However, he can’t be free from legal obligations even if he didn’t know the residency was changed. An unlawful transfer of resident registration to a rural area is a typical trick speculators use when they speculate in farmland. Even if the statute of limitations has expired, the frustration and betrayal of the people is so big that it is difficult to gloss over as something that took place long ago.
There is no law that bans public servants from profiting from property sales. But the process of increase should be clearer and fairer than that of ordinary people. If illegal means, especially a typical trick speculators play was used, people won’t accept explanations. Mr. Lee has three houses ― a villa in Hannamdong, another in Dogokdong and an officetel in Yeoksamdong. Owning multiple houses is not against the law. But when someone who owns three houses tells people not to speculate in real estate, it is not so persuasive.
Mr. Lee should clarify the truth about the suspected real estate speculation, including the disguised change of residency to a rural area. After that, he must make clear whether or not he will resign from the government.