Property instruction affects 11 presidential aides

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Property instruction affects 11 presidential aides

Eleven people, including many working on the Moon Jae-in administration’s economic policies, are in the firing line of the Blue House’s recent instruction to presidential aides to keep only one real estate property inside the capital region and sell the rest.

“Senior Blue House officials who own multiple real estate properties inside the capital region were advised to keep only one and sell the rest as soon as possible, unless there are unavoidable reasons,” Yoon Do-han, Blue House senior secretary for public communication, said Monday in a press briefing, hours after the government announced a package of powerful measures to control the real estate market.

According to Yoon, Presidential Chief of Staff Noh Young-min recently issued the instruction to Blue House officials. “Noh urged the senior officials of the Presidential Secretariat and National Security Office to actively participate in the government’s policy to stabilize real estate prices,” Yoon said, stressing that the instruction is to set an example.

Yoon, however, admitted that there was no way to force them to sell off the properties and added there will be no punishment if presidential aides resist the directive. The de facto order to sell off properties hits 11 presidential aides in particular, who according to Yoon, own two or more real estate properties in Seoul. While Presidential Chief of Staff Noh is a multiple-property owner, he will not be affected by his own instruction as one of the properties is located in Cheongju, North Chungcheong.

The officials who were affected by Noh’s warning remained tightlipped on Monday. “I understand the intention behind the order, so I will take it seriously,” one of the 11 secretaries told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday, on the condition of anonymity. “I will consult with my family and make a decision.”

It was evident that the Blue House has decided to make public the latest development because the administration is facing snowballing criticism for its apparent hypocrisy. Many top government officials and presidential aides are multiple-property owners, and some have been accused of real estate profiteering, a cardinal sin for a liberal administration in Korea.

Last week, a liberal civic group, Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice, held a press conference and released an analysis into the real estate properties owned by former and current aides of the Moon Blue House. It said 65 former and current presidential aides together own properties worth 74.3 billion won ($63.75 million) as of November. Since January 2017, the prices of their properties went up an average of 320 million won, the civic group said. Following the announcement, Moon reportedly ordered the presidential secretary for civil service discipline to conduct a survey into the properties owned by Blue House aides. The survey was used as a ground for Noh’s warning.

The civic group’s data showed that many of the 11 presidential aides with multiple properties inside the capital region are responsible for economic policies of the Moon government. Lee Ho-seung, senior presidential secretary for economic affairs, owns two properties in Bundang, Gyeonggi. One is worth 1.18 billion won and another 300 million won.

Presidential Secretary for Industrial Policy Kang Sung-cheon has two properties - in Sejong and in Hannam-dong, Yongsan District in central Seoul. They are respectively worth 455 million won and 448 million won.

Presidential Secretary for Trade Park Jin-kyu owns four properties. He owns a 1.44 billion won property in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi; a second property, worth 885 million won, in Sejong and two more properties in the Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam District in southern Seoul.

Cho Seong-jae, presidential secretary for employment and labor, has a property in Songpa District, southern Seoul, worth 1.56 billion won. His Sejong property is worth 500 million won. Kim Jo-won, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, is also one of the 11 senior aides with multiple properties in the capital region. Kim owns a property worth 1.43 billion won in Gangnam District, and another one, worth 1.73 billion won, in Songpa District.

Yeo Hyeon-ho, secretary for public information, also owns two properties. His Gwacheon property is worth 1.14 billion won and his other property in Mapo District, western Seoul, is worth 1.1 billion won.

According to Yoon, the Blue House will not keep track of who has followed the instruction and who has not. “We don’t have to check,” Yoon said Monday. “When they declare their assets as senior public servants next year, we will naturally know.”

Yoon also said the 11 officials will be given opportunities to explain why they own multiple properties. If they have sufficient reasons, they will be exempted from the instruction, he said.

Asked if the Blue House will urge senior public servants in other ministries to follow the same guidelines, Yoon said that is beyond the presidential office’s authority. “If the Blue House sets an example, we believe other ministries will follow,” he said.

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