Suspicious land dealsIconic business tycoons, former high-ranking government officials, TV celebrities and athletes are under strong suspicion that they bought large stretches of land for profit around Pyeongchang, Gangwon - the host city of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Responding to the public uproar over their potentially speculative land deals, individuals have said that they purchased the land only for the purpose of building an arboretum or a villa or country house for their post-retirement life - not for speculation.
But they can hardly deny that they attempted to profit from expected land price increases, particularly given that most of the plots of land purchased are located in areas near the Olympic venue. If they are seeking a bonanza from the Olympic boom, they will never be free of public criticism. Even if they followed a legitimate procedure to make their purchases, it is still far from a conscionable action if the purchases were made for speculation.
Purchases of woodland or fields is legal, but farmland is a different story. People who buy farmland must not only submit detailed plans for farming before purchasing the land, but they must also do the farming themselves, according to the Agricultural Land Law.
The Gangwon Provincial Government announced it will thoroughly check if any of the recent land purchases were made by people who are actually engaged in farming. If not, the province plans to take legal action against them, including levying heavy penalties.
But the provincial authorities must sort out the illegal profit-seekers through a strict investigation into suspicious buyout cases. It will not only be difficult to tell if the land was purchased solely for profit, but it will also be hard to force the new landowners to sell. If they have violated the law, the officials must hold them accountable for their actions.
If, however, they followed the rules in the process of making their land purchases, society should refrain from hurling excessive criticism at them. As long as they did not violate the law, the government cannot - and should not - put arbitrary limits on their private activities. That’s the standard for a law-abiding society.
People in the upper echelons of society must engage in economic activities befitting their social status. They will not avoid sharp public denunciation if they turn out to have tried to take advantage of the Winter Games - which we are hosting with the support of the entire population - to satisfy their insatiable appetite for wealth.