The alleged favoritism over a fledgling asset management company in a development project in Seongnam under then-mayor Lee Jae-myung — current Gyeonggi Governor and frontrunner among presidential candidates of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) — has become the most heated topic of debate between the rival parties. The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) demanded a special prosecutorial probe into Lee, pointing to him at the heart of the scandal. But Lee accuses the PPP of framing him, turning the issue into a political hot potato.
One thing is certain. The development in Daejang-dong in Seongnam — which Lee has claimed as one of his biggest mayoral accomplishments — has benefited a select group. The awarding of the project was decided in just a few days, putting it under a company that was founded a week before it won the multi-million-dollar project. A pork-barrel project in the capital region is usually spearheaded by a public entity. Yet the fledgling company called Hawcheon Daeyu led the project and pocketed 400 billion won ($338 million) from the development, whereas the public sector gained just 180 billion. It was even an exception to the established practice of splitting profit from big development projects 50:50 between the public and private sector, a practice that was introduced after the hefty benefits that went to private companies in the Line 9 subway project.
City government employees of Seongnam reportedly opposed the project as it had been arranged to benefit a certain private company. Even members of the DP suspect a collusive deal between city government employees and the company, even if Lee was not directly involved.
An urban development project usually seeks expertise from outside experts in various fields. But the Daejang-dong project was reviewed entirely by an advisory group comprised of legal experts that included a former justice and a special prosecutor. Former Justice Kwon Soon-il said he provided advice only om the phone, but Hwacheon Daeyu claimed that he worked for a monthly salary of 15 million won.
The case can be easily clarified by following the money. Another volatile case involving former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl — a frontrunner among presidential candidates of the opposition People Power Party (PPP) — over his alleged abuse of power when he was the top prosecutor is being investigated by all law enforcement agencies from the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) to the prosecution and the police. Equal weight must be given to Lee’s case, since he welcomed a thorough investigation. The investigation must be quick, as the figures implicated in the case have cut off contact.
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