Prime minister announces results of probe into illegal land purchases
Three months after the government's interagency investigative team launched a probe into allegations of illegal land purchases made using inside information by government and public company employees, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum announced Wednesday at a press conference that the team has investigated 2,800 people and referred 529 to prosecutors.
The wide-ranging investigation, which involves not only the National Police Agency and the state prosecution service but also the National Tax Agency and Financial Services Commission, scrutinized land purchases and attendant financial transactions.
Of those under investigation, 13 are sitting National Assembly legislators, 14 are heads of local governments, eight are high-ranking public officials, and 55 are regional council members.
Nine public officials have thus far been arrested in relation to the scandal. Prosecutors have also separately investigated 14 real estate agents who facilitated the transactions.
The probe was sparked by accusations made on March 2 by two civic groups — the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and Lawyers for a Democratic Society — that LH employees purchased land in Gwangmyeong-Siheung, Gyeonggi, ahead of an announcement by the Land Ministry that the site would be developed into the latest New Town.
Although the accusations initially singled out employees at the Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH) for taking advantage of inside information available at the state-run company, the scandal soon engulfed more public companies, including regional development corporations, and civil servants at all levels of government.
The sum value of real estate assets and illegal profits confiscated by police and prosecutors now totals 90.8 billion won ($81.6 million). The National Tax Agency also plans to collect 53.4 billion won in evaded taxes which were exposed as a result of tax audits on 454 people who were under investigation.
“We have confirmed allegations that vice-ministerial level heads of agencies, chiefs of local governments and municipal and county employees used inside information to buy land,” Kim said at the conference.
“As the prime minister and chief of administration, I am deeply embarrassed about the allegations of illegal activities among public employees, and I bow my head in apology before the people.”
Kim also vowed to continue fighting against illegal land purchases.
“I say now that there is no change in the government’s steadfast will to wage a thorough war against illegal real estate activities,” Kim said. “We will make sure that similar illegal activities cannot happen again by investigating with no limit on time or effort.”
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]