Point of no returnPresident Moon Jae-in finally ordered prosecutors and police to do their best to swiftly investigate the ever-growing Daejang-dong development scandal to find out the truth behind the most lucrative development project in Seongnam City, Gyeonggi. Moon directly ordered an investigation of the case one week after a Blue House aide said the president was closely watching the case. After Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung — the self-proclaimed “designer” of the joint public-private development project when he was Seongnam mayor — was elected presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) Sunday, former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon refused to accept his defeat in the primary citing “inappropriate vote counting” and “growing suspicions over Lee’s potential involvement in the scandal.”
Despite less than five months left until the presidential election in March, we welcome Moon’s instruction, however belated it may be. It has become clear that a group of private developers earned unimaginable profits from the project. It seems doubtful that land owners or residents of newly-built apartments fared as well. The crux of the case is a “corrupt and predatory cartel of politicians, lawyers and a local government,” declared an association of professors across the country. Gov. Lee faces a plethora of questions about why he as mayor approved such a dubious development project from the start.
The ongoing investigations by the police and prosecutors have been too slow. In an hilarious turn of events, the police recovered a smartphone dumped by Yoo Dong-gyu, former acting president of the Seongnam Development Corporation, just a day after checking CCTVs around his apartment. (The prosecution failed to secure the phone). That’s not all. The law enforcement agencies kept dragging their feet in investigating Kim Man-bae, a major shareholder of Hwacheon Daeyu, an asset management company at the center of the scandal, and did not raid Seongnam City Hall to seize any evidence.
In the meantime, public sentiment is boiling out of control, as clearly seen in the surprising — and overwhelming — victory of Lee Nak-yon over Lee Jae-myung in the final round of the DP presidential primary on Sunday. The dramatic turnaround can be completely explained by the mushrooming land development scandal. President Moon finally broke a long silence and ordered a thorough investigation of the scheme. If police officers and prosecutors dilly-dally again, the case will have to go to a special prosecutor. The public is watching closely.
Gov. Lee and the DP must stop trying to pin the blame on greedy builders, the conservative media and the opposition People Power Party (PPP). The DP refused the PPP’s persistent demand to summon several suspects to the National Assembly as witnesses. The Gyeonggi provincial government, the Financial Services Commission and the Financial Supervisory Service joined forces not to submit any relevant data to the legislature.
DP Chairman Song Young-gil went so far as to recommend Gov. Lee resign from his post as quickly as possible to avoid a grilling from PPP lawmakers. If this is not a farce, what is? The governor has finally decided to appear at the legislature and answer questions after “contemplating” the repercussion. The scandal has crossed a point of no return.