A speedy probe is needed

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A speedy probe is needed

Two senior employees of the Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH) have committed suicide. They are presumed to have taken their own lives amid an ongoing probe on LH inside trade for speculative investment in the Gwangmyeong-Siheung New Town project. The two had not been on the government list of employees suspected of speculative activity, raising questions about the credibility of the government-led special taskforce, involving more than 700 officials.

A retired prosecutor who had dealt with major corruption cases said that dilly-dallying in an investigation can only amplify anxiety for suspects. When criminality is found in the early stages, the suspects can be saved of over-anxiety by seeking ways to lessen the punishment through advice from lawyers, said another legal expert. Speculation based on insider information can get a maximum five years in jail or a 50-million-won ($44,000) fine, a penalty not worth taking a life over.

More than two weeks have passed since the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and the Lawyers for Democratic Society exposed that employees at the state authority on housing supplies purchased plots of land at sites set to be designated as a massive housing development zone. However, despite the launch of a taskforce, the joint investigation team has discovered only seven additional cases based on the findings by the civic groups.

President Moon Jae-in ordered a thorough investigation and Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun vowed to ban real estate purchases by LH employees other than for residential purposes. They sounded stern, but their actions did not match. Land Minister Byeon Chang-heum only offered to resign after LH’s regional head of North Jeolla branch committed suicide.

Cases related to major real estate fraud mostly went to the prosecution thanks to its expertise in the field. But the prosecution has been excluded from the investigation under a new law that limits its investigative jurisdiction to six crimes. The special taskforce team could have recruited prosecutors to lead the investigation with police. Since the revised law has just taken effect, amendments on enforcement decrees are possible through executive orders.

Park Young-sun, a ruling Democratic Party (DP) candidate in the April 7 mayoral by-election in Seoul, and others in the DP have been calling for an investigation by a special prosecutor who can carry out investigation and indictment at the same time.

If the DP also feels the need for reinforcement in the investigation, the government must not stall any further. It must set up the most skilled team with prosecutors and police to prevent any further tragic losses. The case is too grave to leave it in the hands of the police.
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