The last chance to turn the tideA bipartisan agreement has been reached to appoint an independent counsel to investigate public employee’s property speculation, including the case with the Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH) that opened a Pandora’s Box on real estate profiteering through inside information on housing developments. Ruling Democratic Party (DP) floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon agreed on the need for a special prosecutor after his counterpart from the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) called for a bill on an independent counsel probe on the LH scandal. The move comes after a government probe has been stumbling over the last two weeks since the scandal was exposed.
An independent counsel team is usually comprised of 10 seasoned prosecutors. The government had excluded the prosecution from a government investigation team on the LH case citing the new criminal law guidelines which restricted prosecutorial jurisdiction to six specific categories. The land ministry was to spearhead the investigation, but when the move was met with outrage, the prime minister’s office hurriedly expanded the taskforce to include police, financial and tax authorities. The 770 member team included a single prosecutor for indictments. The police was commanded to stake its name on the probe with the prosecution serving as backup. It is fortunate to see the case finally on a path for a real investigation by prosecutors. President Moon Jae-in also finally issued an apology for disappointing the people as public rage builds to a boiling point.
To show its genuineness, the independent counsel team must have full authority over the case. It must be able to set the investigation scope and use proper resources. The DP must promise that it won’t use its dominant power to get its own way.
A neutral figure must head the special counsel team. The opposition can be given the choice to name the counsel. During the last independent counsel investigation on the online opinion manipulating scheme, the opposition front had the right to choose two out of four candidates recommended by the Korea Bar Association. The president made the final choice out of the two.
Although apologizing, Moon claimed the real estate speculative activities by LH employees was a poor tradition from the past. It had been Moon and his government that launched a war with speculators as if the country was a hotspot for speculation but only ended up encouraging speculation. With such mindset, an independent probe may be just a scheme to buy time for election purpose. Even leftist lawmaker Sim Sang-jeong called the scandal “the Moon Jae-in government’s corruption.”
The ruling front may have accepted an independent probe by watching its approval ratings dip fast. The probe may be its last chance to turn the tide.