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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 10)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:01 June 10, 2021

Mired in speculation
Lawmakers hit for illegal property dealings

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) has told 12 of its lawmakers to leave the party voluntarily after the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC) discovered they had been involved in illegal real estate transactions. The party disclosed the names of the suspected lawmakers Tuesday amid growing public anger over civil servants, politicians and employees of state-run enterprises who have purchased real estate for speculative purposes by using inside information about development projects.

DPK Chairman Rep. Song Young-gil said Wednesday, "It is heartbreaking, but inevitable if the party is to ease public distrust over the real estate issue." He urged the party members to submit to investigations as "independents" and return to the party after/if the allegations made against them are cleared up. Among the 12, four are suspected of buying real estate using another person's name; three are suspected of using confidential information obtained during official business; and five others are accused of violating the Farmland Act that allows only people cultivating the land to own farmland.

The DPK case shows how prevalent real estate speculation is in Korean society. The 12 members include veteran legislators such as Rep. Woo Sang-ho, who served as the DPK floor leader, and freshman lawmakers hailing from civic groups. The party had to take "pre-emptive steps" against the suspected lawmakers to avoid a stronger backlash from the public over the real estate speculation. However, some of the lawmakers are protesting the move, denying any allegations of speculation.

The party has been desperate to quell public anger, as it has already taken flak for applying double standards and being hypocritical. It still remains arrogant and self-righteous despite its crushing defeat in the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan. The party is struggling to win back voters with nine months left before the presidential election slated for March next year.

The opposition People Power Party (PPP) Wednesday asked the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) to conduct investigations into all of its lawmakers to check whether any of them have been involved in illegal real estate dealings. However, the state audit agency has no legal authority to carry out any probes into members of the National Assembly and the judiciary. As a result, some critics denounced the PPP for trying to avoid any investigation over property speculation.

The DPK, for its part, should pay more heed to the lingering skepticism that its recent move was only designed to minimize the public's growing disenchantment with the party. It should realize that it is high time to root out real estate speculation in the political sector.

Any expedient steps will only worsen public sentiment. The DPK should expel the lawmakers immediately and ban them from returning to the party. It also needs to apply stricter ethical standards to prevent further illegalities. This will be the only way for it to carry out President Moon Jae-in's much-touted pledge to usher in a fair and just society.

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