Rooting out real estate corruptionThe ruling Democratic Party (DP) disclosed the names of 12 lawmakers suspected or found to have been involved in illegal real estate transactions or ownership by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission. The DP asked them to leave the party. The party made the decision a day after the party leadership was notified of the list of names from the commission, without giving time for concerned lawmakers to explain themselves. Such massive expulsion, although not mandatory, would be the first in Korean political history. Woo Sang-ho, a symbolic figure among the student activist-turned politician generation, was among the names shown the door.
The DP has moved quickly so as not to lose more public favor over real estate scandals after its crushing defeat in the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan. The party has become fretful of its winning chance in the March 9 presidential election next year. DP spokesperson Koh Yong-jin said DP chairman Song Young-gil decided not to hear out explanations from the lawmakers so that the party won’t appear to defend its members. In March, then floor-leader Kim Tae-nyeon said the party would reveal the names of the lawmakers upon commission probe findings and take “legal or political” action.
But Song stopped short from expelling them and banning their return until fully found not guilty by simply “recommending” them to leave the party. Even if each lawmaker is persuaded to leave, they can rejoin if they wish. Reps. Yangyi Won-young and Yoon Mee-hyang, who have gained representative seats through proportional slots, were expelled so that they can keep their seats as independent representatives. Still, the stunning move should serve as a turning point in stamping out real estate speculation by lawmakers. The commission probe was based on examination of real estate-related documents submitted by DP lawmakers and 816 family members. Some refused to hand in financial transaction records, and an investigation into trade in borrowed names was not made. Real schemers could have avoided being caught this time. Additional investigations must take place to truly meet the slogan of a “stern action” from the ruling party.
The main opposition People Power Party must also take similar action. It has asked the Board of Audit and Inspection to investigate its lawmakers, but the state watchdog can refuse the request citing no authority to look into lawmakers. The party must come up with more realistic measures.