Prosecutors clear MB in retirement home controversy

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Prosecutors clear MB in retirement home controversy

The prosecution cleared yesterday President Lee Myung-bak and his family as well as former Blue House officials over alleged irregularities involving a purchase of a site in southern Seoul to build Lee’s retirement home.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday that its investigation into seven people including Lee, his wife Kim Yoon-ok and their son Lee Si-hyung, didn’t yield enough grounds to file indictments against them. After the media reported last October about the complicated and controversial purchase of a large plot of land in Naegok-dong, in the southern outskirts of Seoul, to build Lee’s retirement home, two liberal opposition parties ? the then-Democratic Party and the Democratic Labor Party ? asked the prosecution to investigate the people involved in the deal.

The predecessors of the current Democratic United and Unified Progressive parties argued that the land purchase wasted government money and that the purchase of the plot, made under Lee’s son’s name, had violated laws governing real estate transactions.
The purchase fueled suspicion that it was made under Lee’s son’s name to sidestep inheritance laws. Shortly after the reports, the Blue House said the site was chosen for security reasons and Lee would register it under his name.
The move failed to stop criticism, and Lee ordered his staff on Oct. 17, 2011, to nix the plan and said he would return to his home in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul, after his term ends.

Wrapping up the investigation yesterday, the prosecution cleared all seven people, including the president and his family as well as senior presidential aides involved in the deal. The prosecution still asked the Board of Audit and Inspection to look further into the case to see if there was any dereliction of duty committed by public servants during the plot purchase.
Citing Article 84 of the Constitution, the prosecution said it has no right to indict Lee over the case. “The president shall not be charged with a criminal offense during his tenure of office, except for insurrection or treason,” the article reads.
Liberal lawmakers have argued that the Presidential Security Service paid about 1 billion won ($852,000) more than the appropriate price when it purchased the land with Lee’s son, incurring a loss in the state coffers. The prosecutors, however, turned down the argument and cleared Lee’s 34-year-old son Si-hyung and his wife as well as other Blue House officials, including former security chief, Kim In-jong, and the former presidential chief of staff, Yim Tae-hee.
The prosecutors said the price of the land, calculated by Kim and his staffers, was reasonable as it was based on the market prices in nearby areas and with a projection of hikes in the future.

The prosecutors said the presidential son took out a loan from Nonghyup under his own name to purchase the land, although he used his mother’s property as collateral. Because Lee Si-hyung purchased the land under his own name, the transaction was legitimate, the prosecution said.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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