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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 25)

All News 06:53 October 25, 2021

Poor investigation
Prosecution hit for trying to protect presidential candidate

The prosecution is taking flak for its "poor investigation" into a corruption-ridden land development scandal, following its indictment of a key suspect last week on charges of bribery, but not breach of trust. The move has sparked a public backlash.

The opposition political parties have criticized the law enforcement agency, claiming it is trying to protect Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung, a presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK). Lee faces growing allegations that he might have been deeply involved in the controversial project to construct an apartment complex on land in Daejang-dong, Seongnam, south of Seoul.

On Thursday, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office indicted Yoo Dong-gyu, former acting president of the city-run Seongnam Development Corp., on charges of taking 350 million won ($298,000) in bribes from private developers in return for business favors. However, the office withheld breach-of-trust charges against Yoo, who is considered a close aide to Gov. Lee.

When requesting an arrest warrant for Yoo, the prosecution also listed charges that he demanded 70 billion won in kickbacks from Hwacheon Daeyu, an asset management firm, which took part in the project. In addition, the agency accused Yoo of accepting 500 million won in bribes from Kim Man-bae, the largest shareholder of the firm. It is unusual for the prosecution to omit charges listed in an arrest warrant for a criminal suspect.

The charge of breach of trust is crucial to confirming whether Gov. Lee was involved in the corruption scandal surrounding the development project. Lee, who designed and approved the project when he was Seongnam mayor, faces allegations that he caused a huge loss to the municipality by refusing to include a clause in a contract with the private developer that would see excess profits returned to city coffers. If such a clause had been included, the city could have prevented Hwacheon Daeyu and its seven affiliates from reaping an estimated profit of 850 billion won, almost 1,000 times their initial investments.

It can be said that the municipal government could have prevented this loss from the public-private project if city officials, including Gov. Lee, had done the right thing. During the National Assembly audit of the Gyeonggi provincial government last week, Lee flatly denied allegations implicating him of involvement in any corruption scheme. But he failed to give a clear explanation to dispel any suspicions.

The prosecution said it would bring additional charges against Yoo, if necessary, after conducting a further investigation. Yet, the agency gave the impression that it might be trying to protect the DPK's candidate. It has already been under fire for being too late in its launch of the investigation as well as raiding the mayor's office belatedly, thus giving time for Lee and other former and incumbent officials to destroy evidence.

Prosecutors should humbly accept the criticism from the main opposition People Power Party that they are desperately struggling to save Gov. Lee. They should double down on getting to the bottom of the case no matter who was involved in the scandal. Otherwise their investigation results cannot be trusted ― and in that case, an independent counsel should be appointed to reveal the complete truth.
(END)

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