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(LEAD) Nearly 2,000 LH employees buy or lease public housing provided by their company: lawmaker

All News 14:48 April 12, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS photo, details from briefing in last 4 paras)

SEOUL, April 12 (Yonhap) -- Nearly 2,000 employees at a state housing developer have signed contracts for public housing provided by their own company over the last 10 years, data showed Monday.

According to the document that Rep. Kwon Young-se of the opposition People Power Party received from the Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH), 1,900 workers at the company signed such contracts between 2011 and 2020.

The company is at the center of the ongoing government-led investigation into alleged land speculation involving its workers. Since it broke out in early March, the scandal has spilled into other public agencies, with hundreds of public servants, including several sitting lawmakers, under investigation for speculative real estate transactions using classified information.

The undated photo provided by Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH) shows its headquarters in Jinju, about 435 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Public housing, including long-term rental houses, is usually built to supply affordable homes for those in need, such as low-income families, newlyweds, households with many dependents and those who meet certain criteria.

Of the 1,621 public housing units bought by LH workers, for example, 503 cases were found to be in Jinju, about 435 kilometers southeast of Seoul, where the LH headquarters are located, and 158 cases were in the administrative capital of Sejong.

The company said that it found no illegality in those contracts and that the employees who had bought or rented LH housing were all eligible.

But some activists pointed out that the sheer number of such contracts raised questions about whether the process has been fair. As of 2016, the number of LH employees was around 6,000.

"The chance is ridiculously high (for LH workers) compared with the chance for ordinary people," Kim Heon-dong, an activist from the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice, said, adding that the number could only go up when counting the contracts hidden under other people's names.

Calling LH public rental housing "a dormitory for LH workers," Kim In-man, a real estate consultant, said LH public rental housing must have been "a real bargain" for them.

Rep. Kwon said the findings showed "pervasive moral hazard among LH employees" and that "urgent measures are needed" to tighten discipline among them and to root out conflict of interests.

At a briefing on Monday, the state investigation team led by police said it has been investigating 746 people, including 140 public servants, five lawmakers and 38 LH workers, on suspicion of land speculation since its launch a month ago.

Of the number, 47 people have been referred to the prosecution and 636 people are being currently investigated. It closed cases against 63 people.

So far, four people, including a public servant in Pocheon, 46 km north of Seoul, and a LH worker, have been arrested, and courts have approved applications sought by police to freeze their real estate, worth 24 billion won (US$21.3 million) in total, which the suspects are believed to have bought using inside information, pending investigation.

It has been also looking into whether there were any irregularities during the loan approval process as an investigation showed some took on unreasonably excessive loans from local banks.

Officials walk down a hallway of the Korean National Police Agency in this undated file photo. (Yonhap)


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