Call in the special prosecutor

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Call in the special prosecutor

If prosecutors are really determined to root out corruption, they should be able to clear all suspicions over the lucrative land development project led by Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate for the ruling Democratic Party (DP), when he was mayor of Seongnam. But prosecutors are still dragging their feet. The prosecution led by Prosecutor General Kim Oh-soo seems to have no will to get to the bottom of the scandal.

Over 40 days have passed since the scandal broke, but the prosecution has not made any progress in its investigations. If it really dilly-dallies ahead of the next presidential election in March, the case must go to an independent counsel.

In a strange turn of events, the top law enforcement agency excluded the breach-of-trust charge from its indictment of Yoo Dong-gyu — a former acting president of Seongnam Development Corporation (SDC) — at the center of the scandal. He is suspected of causing a whopping 850 billion won ($722.8 million) in losses for SDC, land owners and apartment tenants by allowing a precious few to take that much money from the project. Prosecutors should have found out who took a leading role in designing and approving the controversial project, who gave and received bribes, and who pocketed the surplus profit.

But the prosecution was even reluctant to track financial transactions among stakeholders. We wonder if the procrastination was caused by the pro-government prosecutor general who once served as a counsel for Seongnam. Many criticize prosecutors for their passive approach to the case, presumably as they try not to cause any damage to the DP’s presidential candidate.

In another weird turn of events, the prosecution released lawyer Nam Wook, a key figure, on Thursday, less than 48 hours after arresting him at the airport. Nam fueled the suspicions with his shocking remarks on giving a five-billion-won bribe to several powerful figures. But he changed his words about who the “him” in a transcript refers to after returning from the U.S. That’s why he is suspected to have retuned to Seoul after striking a deal with the prosecution. Prosecutors also requested an arrest warrant for Kim Man-bae, another stakeholder, but the request was rejected by a court.

The National Assembly’s audit of Gyeonggi Province last week offered opposition lawmakers a chance to find the truth behind the scam, but it went down the drain due to DP lawmakers’ refusal to cooperate. If the prosecution and the DP continue defending Gov. Lee, the case must go to a special prosecutor.
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