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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Oct. 20)

All News 07:14 October 20, 2021

Unresolved suspicions
Lee tries to keep distance from Daejang-dong scandal; allegations about ties to gang surface

In a parliamentary audit Monday, Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung drew a line between himself and Yoo Dong-gyu, a detained key suspect in the Daejang-dong scandal, while admitting he had the final say over the real estate development project in question.

The scandal centers around allegations that the city of Seognam gave a handful of certain private-sector individual investors preferential treatment so they could reap astronomical profits from the Daejang-dong development project.

He offered an apology in the capacity of an official with personnel management authority for corrupt public servants' suspected cozy ties with businesses.

Lee said that it was regrettable that Yoo, former chief of the planning headquarters of Seongnam Development Corp. which led the project, was arrested on charges of breach of trust and bribe acceptance. He added he personally feels betrayed. However, he denied that Yoo is one of his close aides. Lee effectively argued that he is not implicated in the scandal.

But few people would believe that. None other than Lee appointed Yoo to the post of the public enterprise, and later reassigned him as chief executive of the Gyeonggi Tourism Organization. Yoo testified in a trial about Lee's alleged election law violation.

Lee said a month ago that Yoo was a working-level executive while he did the design of the project and that he made related instructions. If he had designed the project directly, it makes little sense to argue that he did not know that astronomical profits would go to the civilian investors.

According to data the city submitted to an opposition party lawmaker, Lee signed about 10 different related internal documents of the municipal government as Seongnam mayor.

Regarding one of the most controversial allegations that the excess earning redemption clause was first included in a business agreement draft on the project but deleted later, he said to the effect that he had no reason to be debriefed about details because he left the entire project up to Seongnam Development.

A February 2015 Seongnam government document with Lee's signature contains a phrase that the city must not prioritize private-sector profits excessively. However, about three months later, Seongnam Development approved the business agreement without the clause.

Lee said it was not true to allege the clause was deleted and that it is a fact that he rejected a suggestion by a working-level employee for the inclusion of the clause. This invites criticism that Lee neglected his duty of increasing the municipal interest.

It goes against common sense to argue that Yoo determined the profit-distribution scheme unilaterally, with Lee left in the dark. Lee's remarks in the audit do not help clarify suspicions but rather aroused them.

During the audit, allegations that Lee had close relations with an organized criminal group drew much attention.

A People Power Party lawmaker disclosed a statement and other memos allegedly written by an inmate ex-gangster of a local organized crime ring.

According to the statement, Lee as Seongnam mayor received nearly 2 billion won ($1.69 million) in kickbacks for giving special favors to members of the gang in connection with projects executed by the city. Through his lawyer, the former gangster disclosed his facial photo and said he would be readily punished if his information proves false.

Lee laughed off the allegation as false information. However, he did not explain specifically why.

Last week a former People Power Party presidential aspirant disclosed a photo that shows an alleged gangster sitting at the desk in the Seongnam mayor's office, with Lee standing aside.

In the meantime, it was revealed that Lee's protocol secretary who accompanied him for the past eight years was an ex-convict with a history of being involved in mob violence. He is said to be working for Lee's presidential campaign.

Of course, those with a record of violent crime deserve equal job opportunities, but how should people view the mob violence record of a person who accompanied a figure chosen as the presidential candidate of the ruling party?

Lee's successor and current Seongnam Mayor Eun Su-mi was fined for using a passenger car and a chauffeur provided by a former gangster for free for about a year.

This is the first time that an organized crime ring was mentioned after Lee was chosen as the ruling party's presidential candidate. He should explain this to people.

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