Investigate thoroughlyA joint investigation team will announce today the first results of its investigation into allegations of real estate purchases by Korea Land and Housing Corporation (LH) employees before the Land Ministry’s recent announcement of a development plan. We hope the government does not let them off the hook after a half-baked probe into their use of inside information.
The fact that LH employees bought over 10 billion won ($8.7 million) worth of land in Gwangmyeong and Siheung cities in Gyeonggi, which later were designated as the site of a massive third New Town project, was first revealed by liberal civic groups on March 2. The government and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) vowed to crack down on real estate speculation by cooling off the market, but they seem to lack interest in finding out the truth or hold accountable any speculators using inside information.
Public distrust was triggered by the participation of Land Minister Byeon Chang-heum — who served as CEO of LH at the time of the suspicious purchases — and his ministry officials in the joint investigation team. As the probe was conducted without prosecutors after the government’s redistribution of investigative rights between the police and the prosecution, it is possibly going to be a whitewash.
The investigation team should have obtained core evidence in the early stages to prevent destruction of evidence. But the police requested warrants for search and seizure of LH headquarters only on March 5 and executed them on March 9.
The investigation team is preparing to announce results of its investigation just two days after its raids. How can we expect substance from its probe? The targets for the investigation are massive — 9,900 employees from the Land Ministry, 6,000 from local governments and 3,000 from public corporations in provinces. 12 LH employees refused to comply with the investigation, citing their right to not offer personal information.
Suspicions have spilled over to other New Town sites, including Gwacheon. The mother of a DP lawmaker bought land near the Gwangmyeong site and civil servants in other cities were confirmed to have acquired land. The land grab was not confined to LH employees.
Though the joint investigation team got off to a very late start, it must get to the bottom of the case and find out if any powerful figures in the government were involved. The Blue House and DP are deeply concerned about the scandal’s impact on the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan. They could be tempted to wrap a probe up fast. They must not forget that sly maneuvers won’t work.