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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on June 10)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:01 June 10, 2021

Thorough probe required
Ruling party offers voluntary departure to lawmakers implicated in real estate speculation

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea decided Tuesday to recommend voluntary departure from the party to 12 of its lawmakers, who are suspected of involvement in illegal real estate dealings.

It decided to expel two of the lawmakers, who were elected by proportional representation. In doing so, it effectively let them off. If proportional representatives leave their parties, they lose their parliamentary seats. But if they are expelled, they can maintain their seats as unaffiliated lawmakers.
The party made those decisions in response to the outcome of an investigation by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, which looked at property transactions involving all 174 of the party's lawmakers and their families.

In announcing the measure, the Democratic Party disclosed only the names of the 12 lawmakers and the laws they are suspected of breaking. It has vowed to root out speculation but has not disclosed exactly what each of the 12 lawmakers did.

Four lawmakers are suspected of transferring the legal titles to their properties to trustees. Three are suspected of using confidential information they gained on the job. Five are suspected of violating regulations on farmland ownership. This shows that ruling party lawmakers who pledged to prevent people from making money from real estate dealings are not above doing the same thing.

The party made its decisions without giving the accused lawmakers a chance to vindicate themselves. Some say they won't leave the party. The party's position is to allow them to rejoin once a joint government investigation team clears them of all suspicion. Its leaders have not yet decided what to do if the lawmakers refuse to follow its advice.

It remains to be seen what will happen, but if the lawmakers keep refusing to leave, the party can expel them. But it is unlikely to take an action that would leave it with fewer parliamentary seats.

The commission's investigation began at the party's request in the wake of a real estate scandal involving employees of the Korea Land and Housing Corp., known as LH. The party made the request in March, ahead of the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan. The commission received data on property dealings from all 174 of the Democratic Party's lawmakers and 816 members of their immediate families and checked it against the official registries.

The commission says it investigated fairly without political considerations. But it is hard to take this claim at face value. The commission is chaired by a former Democratic Party lawmaker, and the investigation only took about two months.

If the party wanted an objective and impartial investigation, it could have delegated it to a more independent agency. The commission does not specialize in real estate speculation. It has no authority to compel the disclosure of information, either.

Some lawmakers refused to submit financial transaction records. Transactions made under false names, likewise, are beyond the commission's reach.

The ball is now in the court of a joint government investigation team created to probe the speculation scandal that started at LH. The commission sent the results of its probe both to the team and the party.

Considering the limitations of the probe, a thorough investigation by the team is required, but it is questionable whether it will investigate ruling party lawmakers as intensely as it would if they were common people.

The team announced the interim results of its ongoing investigations last week, about three months after speculation in new town projects by LH employees became known to the public.

The government mobilized as many as 2,400 investigators and arrested 34 people, including low-ranking officials. But not a single high-ranking official, lawmaker or head of a local government was among them. Nearly 10 ruling party lawmakers have been implicated in speculation, but only one opposition party lawmaker is under investigation.

The government has excluded the prosecution and the Board of Audit and Inspection from the team.

If the team's investigation into the lawmakers fizzles out, public sentiment toward the Democratic Party will worsen because of its hypocrisy on real estate issues.

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