Head in the sandA shocking testimony came from one of the people involved in the massive land development project in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, which was spearheaded by the Seongnam Development Corporation (SDC) when Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung was the mayor. The whistle-blower said that the staffers in SDC proposed that surplus profit expected from the project be distributed among several stakeholders, but the proposal was turned down. Suspicions center on Yoo Dong-gyu, a senior official in the corporation, and Gov. Lee, who was likely behind the decision.
On Thursday, the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and Lawyers for a Democratic Society, both liberal civic groups, also claimed that Hwacheon Daeyu, an asset management company at the center of the lucrative development scandal, took 269.9 billion won ($226.6 million) in additional profit after the government lifted the cap on sales of new apartments. The two groups criticized both the Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in administrations for their real estate policy. But they also pointed to the loopholes in the joint public-private development Gov. Lee has been bragging about. Despite many suspicions over how Hwacheon Daeyu, a fledgling developer in 2015, could receive such hefty gains from the project, we wonder how Gov. Lee, a leading presidential candidate, repeatedly attribute it to the “relentless attacks from conventional builders, the opposition People Power Party (PPP) and conservative media.”
But it was Gov. Lee who first urged an investigation into the case from the early stage of the scandal. Then he was engrossed with launching counterattacks on opponents. After the son of a former lawmaker turned out to have received 5 billion won in severance pay after working for the developer merely for a few years, Lee wrote on Facebook, “If you are corrupt, you go to hell. But if you are clean, you go to paradise.” However, the first person who was arrested was Yoo, one of Lee’s close aides despite his denial. Nevertheless, the governor continues putting the blame on his opponents.
In a recent editorial, the Hankyoreh newspaper wondered if Yoo could allocate such a huge profit to the developer even without consulting with his boss, as the project was initiated by Lee and because the SDC is a public entity in which the city government has a 100 percent stake. In a survey by another liberal newspaper, 50.6 percent of the respondents said Lee should be held more accountable for the scandal than the aide.
Rep. Sul Hoon, a core member of the campaign of Lee Nak-yon, another presidential contender from the ruling Democratic Party (DP), singled out Gov. Lee as “the culprit” behind the scandal when he appeared on a KBS program. He even raised the possibility of Lee getting arrested on charges of a breach of trust. Rep. Park Yong-jin, another presidential contender from the DP, mentioned a collapse of the ruling party if Lee was really behind the scheme. A Blue House official said the president was gravely watching the development. But the warning was simply brushed off by Lee’s camp because “the president always uses the expression whenever a big incident takes place.”
Moon uses the term “gravely” at times of crisis, like in June when the collapse of a building caused serious casualties and sexual violence led to the suicide of a non-commissioned officer in the military, and in July when a senior Japanese diplomat used a derogatory term. We cannot but worry about Gov. Lee’s carefree attitude.
We seriously wonder why Lee keeps blaming others whenever a crisis falls on him. He must tell the truth before it’s too late.