Parties agree counsel probe into LH and gov't is necessary

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Parties agree counsel probe into LH and gov't is necessary

Political parties appeared to reach a cross-aisle consensus Tuesday to establish an independent counsel investigation into the snowballing inside information scandal at the state-run Korea Land and Housing Corporation (LH) and other government bodies.
 
At an emergency press conference at the National Assembly, Rep. Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the opposition People Power Party (PPP), said his party would seek to pass a bill on an independent counsel probe into the scandal during the March extraordinary session of the National Assembly.
 
The announcement comes shortly after Kim Tae-nyeon, acting chairman of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), also called for such an investigation on Friday.
 
The PPP submitted a request to commence a parliamentary investigation into the state administration. The PPP plans to designate developments including the Gwangmyeong-Siheung New Town as targets of the investigation.
 
Located south of Seoul, Siheung and Gwangmyeong are at the center of a mushrooming political scandal sparked by allegations that employees of LH used inside information to purchase land in the two cities before they were officially designated a New Town development site last month.
 
The opposition party is also planning to submit a request seeking a separate parliamentary probe into the scandal, Joo said. He concurred with the DP's earlier call for an inquiry into the affairs of all 300 sitting lawmakers, additionally requesting Blue House staff, high-ranking government officials and other administrative appointees be scrutinized as well.
 
The DP welcomed the PPP's request to question legislators, saying it would cooperate with its rival to pass a bill establishing the independent counsel. It said it would also accept the opposition's request for a parliamentary hearing into the state administration.
 
"We must take this opportunity to wash out people's suspicions," Kim said. "The DP will work to expose the truth without any political bargains."
 
The two parties have, for now, agreed on the need for parliamentary action over the LH scandal, though they were initially at loggerheads over the appropriate mechanism.
 
While the PPP originally called for an investigation led by the state prosecution service, the DP resisted such suggestions.
 
The state prosecution service previously spearheaded investigations into scandals involving influential figures in the ruling party and President Moon Jae-in administration before most of its investigative powers were transferred to the police in January last year.
 
Even as they agreed to set up a special counsel probe, the rival parties remained in disagreement over probing Blue House staff. The DP argues that the Blue House is outside the purview of the National Assembly's probes.
 
"The Blue House is already conducting an exhaustive inquiry into all of its staff," Kim said. "If the opposition raises questions about the trustworthiness of the Blue House's internal inquiry, I believe that the National Assembly should play a role in verifying the inquiry results."
 
Meanwhile, President Moon offered his first public apology Tuesday for the scandal at the state-run housing corporation, two weeks after civic groups first raised allegations of inside information misuse among company employees.
 
"I am sorry for having caused great concern to the people," Moon said as he opened the weekly Cabinet meeting. "This case has resulted in great despondency and disappointment, especially to people who work diligently.
 
"If we eradicate the root of our society's inequality –– the deep-rooted evil associated with real estate –– we will have reached a turning point for our country in becoming a more just and transparent society."
 
Moon also vowed that the government would eliminate real-estate corruption among civil servants by strengthening official ethics regulations and preparing mechanisms to prevent future conflicts of interests.
 
BY MICHAEL LEE   [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
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