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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 20)

All News 07:14 October 20, 2021

Failure to reveal truth
National Assembly audit turns into political battle

The National Assembly's audit of the Gyeonggi provincial government turned into a political battle over a land development scandal, Monday. Lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) went all-out to defend Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung who was peppered with a barrage of questions from representatives of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP).

Regrettably, the fierce political wrangling resulted in a failure to get to the bottom of the simmering corruption-tainted scandal. It also overshadowed the Assembly's role of keeping the government in check. DPK lawmakers seemed to forget the principle of democratic checks and balances in favor of defending Lee, the presidential candidate of the ruling party, from growing allegations that he might have been involved in the scandal.

PPP lawmakers were not free from public criticism either. They showed their lack of preparation and inability to present evidence proving Lee's suspected connection to the controversial development project which was carried out in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, during Lee's time as the city's mayor. If the rival parties repeat their political bickering and blame game, they can do nothing to shed light on the case.

It is also disappointing that Governor Lee resorted to denial tactics all the time. He only tried to confine his responsibility for the scandal to his inability to properly supervise city officials. One of those officials is Yoo Dong-gyu, who served as acting president of Seongnam Development Corp. in charge of the development project.

During the audit, Lee apologized for appointing Yoo and other wrong people who were allegedly involved in corruption. Yet his apology sounded more like a lame excuse. He expressed regret for failing to return 100 percent of the profit from the project to the municipal government. However, he passed the blame on to the opposition PPP.

"It was the PPP's lawmakers … who shared the monetary gain in whatever form with the private company that took the development profits," Lee said. He was certainly referring to PPP Rep. Kwak Sang-do who resigned over his son's acceptance of 5 billion won ($4.24 million) in severance pay from Hwacheon Daeyu, the asset management firm in the project. There are allegations that the money was a bribe for his father who was a senior presidential secretary for civil affairs under the previous Park Geun-hye administration.

Lee spread the blame to the PPP, claiming opposition party members, including Kwak, took the development project profits as bribes from private companies carrying out the project. However, it is illogical for Lee to pass the buck to the opposition party because he was the top decision-maker who approved the project. He should admit his legal responsibility for causing damage worth 110 billion won to the municipality by refusing to include a clause in a development contract with the private firm calling for additional profits to be returned to city coffers.

Now the prosecution should double down on its efforts to reveal the truth regarding the public-private joint project, which has brought the private developer and its shareholders an estimated profit of 850 billion won, 1,000 times their initial investment into the project. Prosecutors must conduct a thorough investigation into the case to confirm allegations that Hwacheon Daeyu offered a huge sum in bribes to city officials, prosecutors, judges, lawmakers and other politicians in return for business favors. Most of all the probe should focus on how deeply Lee was implicated in the scandal.

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