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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 21)

All News 07:14 July 21, 2016

Doubts on Park's aide

A corruption scandal involving Woo Byung-woo, the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, is widening, although Cheong Wa Dae denies the allegations. Opposition parties are asking Woo to resign and demand that President Park Geun-hye offer an official apology.

Suspicions raised against the former prosecutor over a dubious real estate deal are quite persuasive.

He is suspected of having received favors from Jin Kyung-joon, the senior prosecutor detained last week in a bribery case, for the sale of his family's real estate to Nexon, the gaming company.

Woo's wife and sisters-in-law inherited the property near Gangnam Station from their father in 2008. They wanted to sell it to pay about 50 billion won in inheritance taxes but could not find a buyer for two years until Nexon bought it in 2011 for about 132.5 billion won. The suspicion is that Woo, then a senior prosecutor, asked Jin, his junior colleague at the prosecution who allegedly had relations with Nexon founder Kim Jung-ju, to broker the deal.

This allegation sounds plausible, given that Nexon suffered a de facto loss of 1.5 to 2.7 billion won from its sale of the property 16 months later if acquisition taxes and interest are included.

What's more, Nexon's employees were kept in the dark about the real estate purchase and the company was already building an office building in Pangyo, Gyeonggi Province. It's also incomprehensible why Nexon borrowed money from a Japanese bank for the deal although it was cash-rich at the time.

What's more embarrassing is that Woo might have turned a blind eye to Jin's possession of Nexon shares when he conducted a security check on Jin in early 2015 in return for the favors he received.

The presidential office denied all suspicions concerning the property deal and urged the opposition to refrain from political offensives aimed at undermining the government's efforts to overcome the looming security and economic challenges. However, it's doubtful if the latest corruption scandal will die down with such half-hearted explanations. In fact, there have been widespread rumors that Woo, who allegedly enjoys the full confidence of President Park, is an informal big shot in the incumbent administration.

The prosecution has launched an investigation into the scandal after Woo filed a complaint against a local daily that made the first report on the case. The probe must proceed swiftly and thoroughly. But President Park should dismiss him if it's judged to be hard to investigate him properly because he is keeping his post at Cheong Wa Dae.

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