Why the powerful lawyers?Rep. Park Soo-young, a lawmaker of the opposition People Power Party (PPP), has released a list of members of the so-called “Five Billion Won Club,” who are rumored to have received $4.2 million from Kim Man-bae, the largest shareholder of Hwacheon Daeyu, an asset management company at the center of the massive land development scandal. Kim, a former journalist, allegedly promised to give the money to each member of a group of top lawyers and other powerful figures in return for their help with the asset management company involved in the development project in Seongnam city, Gyeonggi, when Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung was mayor.
Rep. Kwak Sang-do, a former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, already resigned from office after his son turned out to have received 5 billion won in severance pay after working for the developer for a few years. The recipients also include former special prosecutor Park Young-soo and former Supreme Court Justice Kwon Soon-il, under suspicion for helping Gov. Lee be acquitted of election law violation charge in a trial.
Rep. Park claimed that the list was based on multiple witnesses and a transcript of conversations submitted to the prosecution by a stakeholder of a subsidiary of Hwacheon Daeyu. It is too early to tell the truth. Nevertheless, the amount of money Rep. Kwak’s son received from the developer raises strong suspicions.
Not only the members of the lucky club, but other high-profile figures — including a former deputy justice minister, a former senior prosecutor and a famous lawyer — also are working for the company. Why would a small developer recruit such a powerful group of lawyers as advisors and counsels? Kim, the owner of Hwacheon Daeyu, claimed he invited them because he regards them as “brothers.” He said there was no quid pro quo. But Lee likely built those connections to help solve problems expected in the development project.
What attracts our attention is the way former justice Kwon acted. As a member of the bench at the top court, he played a key role in acquitting Lee of election law violations and retired after two months and accepted a job as a legal counsel for Hwacheon Daeyu for 15 million won in monthly pay. But Kwon said he did not know the company was related to Lee. The law enforcement authorities must dig up all suspicions over Kim’s frequent visits to Kwon’s office before and after the acquittal.
The development scandal will most likely be recorded as one of the worst cases of a collusion between high-profile lawyers and developers for financial gain at the cost of ethics and public interest. The damage from elite lawyers goes directly to citizens. The police and prosecution must clear all suspicions behind the scam, once and for all.