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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 14)

All News 07:06 August 14, 2020

'Conflict of interest' ruling
Insider info should not be used for personal gains

A court ruling against a former lawmaker is drawing attention as it has made clear that insider information cannot and should not be used for personal gain. It is a clear reminder that elected post holders as well as civil servants should stick to their work ethic and strive for moral integrity.

On Wednesday, the Seoul Southern District Court sentenced ex-legislator Sohn Hye-won to 18 months in prison for her involvement in corruption and violating a law banning real estate transactions under "borrowed names." The court found her guilty of buying real estate under other people's names after obtaining insider information while serving as a lawmaker.

In early 2019, Sohn, then a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, invited public anger after her real estate purchases were revealed. She bought 26 lots of land and 21 buildings worth 1.4 billion won ($1.2 million) in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, apparently for speculative purposes.

The ruling came 14 months after she was indicted on the two criminal charges. The court concluded that Sohn used confidential information she acquired as a member of the National Assembly Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee. It rejected her argument that the information was no longer confidential because it had been reported by the news media.

The court pointed out that she bought the properties in an old district of Mokpo, 410 kilometers south of Seoul, for speculative gains because the purchases were made before the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) designated the area as a "modern history and cultural site" in December 2017. It turned down her claim that the purchases were aimed at preserving the city's heritage.

Another key point of the ruling is about who is the real owner of the purchased properties, bought under the names of her aide, a nephew, acquaintances and a cultural foundation headed by her husband. The court ruled that Sohn was the real owner of a guesthouse named Changseongjang which was bought in her nephew's name.

Sohn immediately decided to appeal the court decision. She can benefit from the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. But she should first reflect on her greedy and hypocritical behavior. And then she must acknowledge her speculative buying and apologize to the public.

The court ruling should serve as a warning to public post holders, elected or appointed, that they should not fatten their own pockets by taking advantage of insider or other confidential information. The government and the Assembly should work together to pass a conflict of interest bill to prevent corruption among lawmakers and bureaucrats.

Legislators of the previous Assembly failed to approve the bill which was submitted in January this year. This showed their lack of willingness to fight corruption. Fortunately, the bill will be presented again to the current Assembly. Lawmakers should act on it immediately to root out corruption and usher in clean politics.

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