Time for Lee to get house in order

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Time for Lee to get house in order

A controversy is brewing over the president’s so-called post-retirement residence. The media revealed that a large plot of land has been purchased in Naegok-dong, of the wealthy Seocho District in southern Seoul, under the name of the president’s 33-year-old son, Lee Si-hyung. The president was accused of violating real estate regulations by snapping up land under a different person’s name. Suspicions have also arisen that the president was sidestepping inheritance laws, as his son could not have afforded the 1.12 billion won ($963,000) price tag. The Blue House hastily organized a press conference, explaining that the land was bought under the junior Lee’s name for fear of sparking real estate speculation as well as for security reasons.

On suspicion that the land purchase was a way to hand over wealth to the president’s son, officials explained that the younger Lee took out a loan of 600 million won from a bank, using land owned by his mother as collateral, and borrowed another 500 million won from relatives. The following day, the Blue House announced that the president would repurchase the land under his own name.

But this changes little as the public’s doubts remain. Some now suspect the president used part of the government budget to buy the land. A larger plot of land was purchased for 4 billion won by the Presidential Security Service, while the residential site of which the younger Lee took ownership cost 1.1 billion won. If the land was purchased with government money intended for protecting former state leaders, this would clearly be a case of embezzlement.

The Blue House’s explanation is equally questionable. It claimed that land tapped for security facilities has always been expensive. But realtors and residents say the plot had a market price of 4 million won to 4.5 million won per 3.3 square meters. The younger Lee sealed the deal for less than half of this - at 2.74 million won per 3.3 square meters - while the security office made up the difference by buying the rest for a unit price of 6.28 million won. The landowner made the sale in one block, whereas the two plots could have been sold separately.

And to counter complaints that the plot is unjustifiably large for the residence of a former president, the Blue House said the president will sell part of it off to scale back.

Lee has pledged to donate most of his wealth to charity when he retires - except for enough to buy a house. As such, we don’t want to be too quick to judge him. But he must explain his actions so as not to fall victim to the accusations.

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