Digging up the dirtThe controversy over Kim Eui-kyeom’s lucrative real estate purchase made while he was working for the Blue House continues even after he resigned as President Moon Jae-in’s press officer. On top of being suspected of speculation, he is now also suspected of fabricating documents submitted to get loans for the purchase of a building in Heukseok-dong, southern Seoul. The two-story building had four spaces available for commercial rent, but his documents claimed 10. As a result, the income from monthly rent he could expect from the building nearly doubled from 2.75 million won ($2,419) to 5.25 million won in order to draw a 1-billion-won mortgage loan from Kookmin Bank. If he reported his expected income honestly, he would not have been able to easily take out the bank loan because the rent-to-income ratio fell far below the requirement.
Kim’s real estate purchase angered the public due to the timing and method. The double-dealing by a presidential press officer who touted the justice behind the liberal administration’s clampdown on real estate speculation stunned the public. Suspicions also arose about his financing means and inside information, as well as influence-wielding. The allegations of document fabrication must, therefore, be investigated.
Kookmin Bank claimed no wrongdoing as the mortgage took into account the basement as potential space for extra rent. It argued that an outsourced appraisal agency also found 10 rent spaces in the building, and that the RTI regulation was not compulsory in extending loans at the time. These explanations are unconvincing.
Realtors say that few would rent space at the top or in the basement of a worn-down building in a redevelopment district. The appraisal agency also claimed it did not tell the bank that the building had spaces for extra rents.
A branch head of Kookmin Bank who went to the same high school as Kim granted the loan without seeking approval from the headquarters. The two were reportedly acquaintances. Some kind of collusion could be suspected. Kim claimed he did not know the details because the entire real estate deal, including the loan, was carried out by his wife who did not consult with him first. But circumstantial evidence suggests otherwise. Authorities must thoroughly investigate whether favoritism played a part in the loan grant.
Kim’s case must not be let go of just because he resigned. He also must clarify why he moved into the Blue House security guards’ residence after taking out rent from his home. Resigning from office must not pardon him for any offense. A conservative civilian organization pressed charges against him.
The Blue House has exposed a series of flawed appointments. It remained self-righteous and demonstrated double standards in making excuses. It must answer to all the suspicions if it wants to restore the ethical standards of its choices.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 4, Page 30