SEOUL, March 10 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun instructed the police and prosecution on Wednesday to work closely together to get to the bottom of a massive land speculation scandal involving public officials.
Chung called the police and prosecution chiefs to a meeting, along with the justice and interior ministers, to discuss how they can collaborate to investigate the allegations of speculative land purchases by Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH) employees.
"More important than anything is organic communication and liaison between the police and prosecution," he said at the meeting, stressing the importance of ensuring a watertight judicial process from investigation to indictment.
"The government takes this issue very seriously," he said. "We plan to use all administrative and governmental authority to thoroughly determine the truth and respond to illegalities with zero tolerance by levying the heaviest punishment allowed by law."
The scandal centers on allegations that more than a dozen LH officials used insider information to buy about 10 billion won (US$8.88 million) worth of farmland in Gwangmyeong and Siheung in Gyeonggi Province between April 2018 and June 2020, before the government announced plans for a major development project there.
The issue has sparked public outrage at a time when housing prices continue to climb nationwide despite the government's efforts to tamp them down.
A government interagency team has begun a preliminary investigation into 23,000 officials, including around 9,900 LH employees and 4,500 land ministry employees, and is expected to announce the results this week.
Police on Tuesday raided the LH headquarters and homes of 13 LH officials suspected of involvement in the case.
Chung's remarks echo the words of President Moon Jae-in, who on Monday described the scandal as the first case that requires "organic cooperation" between the prosecution and police.
The prime minister noted there are concerns about a lack of cooperation between the two institutions because the investigation comes shortly after their investigative powers were reorganized in favor of the police.
"This is a serious issue that has focused public resentment and has no room for sloppiness," he said. "I ask relevant agencies to work together to root out corruption and create a model for cooperation between the prosecution and police."
Earlier on Wednesday, the municipal government of Gwangmyeong announced that it confirmed land purchases by five more employees in the development area, bringing the total number at the local government to six.
An investigation is still under way to determine whether they were based on information they acquired at work, Gwangmyeong Mayor Park Seung-won said.
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