Suspicions don’t end with Kim
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Kim Eui-kyeom, President Moon Jae-in’s spokesman, has stepped down, but his resignation has left the Blue House with homework. Despite his resignation, the suspicion that he had made a speculative real estate deal in Heukseok-dong, southern Seoul, was not clearly explained. His resignation actually helped fuel the controversy.
As the presidential spokesman, he sent a lengthy, final message to the presidential press corps through a Kakao chat room.
“I am about to leave, so I will say everything,” Kim wrote on March 29. “I did not know [about the real estate deal]. My wife made the decision to buy it without consulting me.” Kim said he had not known about the purchase of a 2.6-billion-won ($2.29-million) commercial-residential building inside the Heukseok 9 redevelopment zone.
Yet according to Kim’s loan record acquired by Rep. Kim Jong-seok of the Liberty Korea Party from the Kookmin Bank, Kim and his wife jointly offered collateral. Kim offered his salary as the presidential spokesman, while his wife, a retired teacher, offered her pension. The data showed that the bank’s Seongsan Branch met with both of them when it offered 1 billion won in loans in July 2018.
If the branch manager or a bank worker in charge of the loan did not meet face to face with the guarantors of the loan, a criminal charge of negligence may apply. If the bank employee risked the criminal charge and did not meet with Kim face to face, it is reasonable to assume that there was outside pressure.
When the suspected real estate deal was first reported, President Moon’s aides were most concerned about the possibility that an accusation will grow that Kim used his position as presidential spokesman to make the investment. The Blue House’s quick decision to sever its ties with Kim is a great move in terms of crisis management. But it is necessary to reveal the specifics on how the bank loan was made to help Kim buy the real estate in question.
Did Kim know or did he not? Did he meet with a bank official? Was there any outside pressure? Those issues will decide the direction of the controversy that a Blue House official abused his power to make a suspicious real estate deal.
The Blue House faces a larger task. As the spokesman decided to pay most of his salary as the interest of the loan to buy a building in the redevelopment project, suspicions are high that they received help from someone in the administration.
If there was any support in the Blue House or the government ministry, such as the Land and Transportation Ministry, or other networks in the local governments, the administration will face a serious crisis. It means that the government, which started a war against real estate speculation for the sake of ordinary people, secretly exchanged investment information and financial techniques among themselves for private gain.
On March 28, Kim said a relative in the real estate business introduced him to the building and that he did not obtain information from other sources. If that is true, this administration is blameless. But the next day, Kim reversed his remarks and claimed that he had no knowledge about the purchase. You cannot trust someone who completely reversed his words overnight. Therefore, the Blue House now has the burden of proof to show that Kim’s case is not a systemic abuse of power.
It is also a violation of the internal regulations that the Blue House allowed Kim — who used to live in nearby Okin-dong in central’s Jongno District — to live in a residence owned by the Presidential Security Service just because he was a spokesman. His predecessor moved in to the residence because his home was located outside Seoul. He also lived there alone.
In contrast, Kim’s entire family moved in to the residence of the Presidential Security Service. He then used the 480 million won that he had used as the down payment for his previous house as the seed money for the real estate purchase in Heukseok-dong. The Blue House has ended up paying for Kim’s investment. Whoever offered such special treatment to Kim also needs to be revealed.
In his farewell chat with the Blue House reporters, Kim declared that he had maintained an attitude as the presidential spokesman to “directly challenge the logic created by conservative media.” But the logic used in this column is not the logic of conservative media. It is the logic used by journalists as a monitor of power, whether they belong to liberal or conservative media. Kim must not be mistaken.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 1, Page 30