The plot thickens

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The plot thickens

 About half a plot of land purchased by President Moon Jae-in to build a house after retirement turned out to be unfit for construction. The JoongAng Ilbo has reported that Moon and his wife bought the 3,860 square meter (approximately 1 acre) lot in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang, for roughly 1 billion won ($843,170) on April 29, together with the presidential security team.

If Moon really broke his earlier promise to return to his private home in the southern city after retirement just because of security reasons, the people would understand that. But if public suspicions over his violation of the law in the process of purchasing the plot of land and receiving special favors are proven true, that is a serious matter.

Moon purchased the land for “agricultural purposes” in his own name. A document describes him as a “person who has been cultivating a plot of farmland for 11 years.” However, except for just a couple of years he spent as head of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation after leaving the Blue House as Roh’s chief of staff in 2008, Moon mostly served as a politician until elected president in May 2017. We wonder how he could be identified as a farmer who cultivates his own land for a long period of time.

The current law strictly bans anyone from acquiring a plot of farmland in an illegitimate way. For instance, if someone violates the law, he or she must sell the land within one year or cultivate it on their own. But the Blue House has refused to clearly explain about the lead-up to Moon’s purchase of the land — except for a flat denial of “special favors” for the president.

The Blue House claimed that Moon had not violated the law, as the plot of land is still being used as farmland, without specifying who cultivates it and how. The presidential office also said that it is preparing to change the purpose of the land to fit the requirements for construction. That only fuels confusion. Reacting to the Blue House’s incomprehensible explanation, a spokesperson for the main opposition United Future Party attacked Moon for “real estate speculation” in a dramatic betrayal of his administration’s crusade against it.

Despite the government’s 23 sets of measures to control soaring real estate prices, apartment prices in Seoul have skyrocketed by 52 percent over the past three years, according to the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice. Ordinary citizens are frustrated after the ruling Democratic Party railroaded three controversial bills on real estate earlier this week. Yet the president is suspected of having abused his power to build a post-presidential home in his hometown. The Blue House must explain what really happened and apologize. The sooner the better.

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