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[Editorial] Beyond rhetoric

Parties should be stern in disciplining lawmakers involved in illicit property deals

The conservative main opposition People Power Party on Tuesday decided to expel one of its lawmakers and request five others to leave the party in connection with their alleged involvement in illegal property deals.

The decision by the party’s Supreme Council came one day after the state anti-corruption watchdog announced the outcome of its probe into real estate transactions made by 116 legislators from six opposition parties and their family members over the past seven years.

The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission identified 13 alleged speculation cases linked to 12 lawmakers of the People Power Party and handed over the findings to the party leadership and a police-led special government investigation team.

The commission also said a legislator with the minor Open Democratic Party was suspected of having bought a building in an area in western Seoul with prior knowledge that the area would be rezoned for a development project. Rep. Kim Eui-kyeom, who served as a presidential spokesperson when the purchase was made in 2018, immediately came out to deny the allegation.

The anti-corruption agency’s probe into four other minor parties did not lead to any suspicious cases.

The Supreme Council of the People Power Party concluded that the six other lawmakers identified by the agency were not subject to disciplinary actions as the cases involving them were not directly connected to the lawmakers themselves or their explanations were deemed sufficient to clear suspicions. Among them is Rep. Yun Hee-suk, who said Wednesday she would give up her parliamentary seat and presidential bid over her father’s possible violation of the farmland law in 2016.

The expulsion of Rep. Han Moo-kyung, who holds a proportional representative seat, will be put to a vote in a meeting of all party legislators within days. If voted out, she will still maintain her seat as an independent.

Lee Jun-seok, the party chairman, said he would refer the five lawmakers requested to voluntarily give up their party membership to an intraparty ethics committee if they refuse to do so.

The probe into the People Power Party followed a similar one conducted in June on lawmakers of the liberal ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

Twelve legislators of the ruling party were found to have been implicated in questionable real estate deals. At the time, the leadership of the ruling party recommended they quit the party. But 10 of them have since retained party membership, with two others, who have proportional representative seats, being expelled from the party.

Lee, the main opposition leader, has vowed to take stricter measures against its lawmakers involved in illicit property deals than those taken by the ruling party. Measures taken so far cannot be deemed to carry out his pledge.

The ruling party was quick to criticize the People Power Party. Its floor leader, Rep. Yun Ho-jung, said the opposition party would face stern public judgment if it dragged its feet on disciplining the lawmakers implicated in illicit real estate transactions.

But the Democratic Party should first follow through with its measure to get the lawmakers identified by the anti-corruption body to leave the party rather than pointing its finger at the opposition.

Both of the major parties should recognize that public sentiment will not tolerate their attempts to postpone punishment for lawmakers involved in illicit property deals.

Actually, they were driven to ask the anti-corruption watchdog to undertake the probes in the wake of a massive land speculation scandal involving employees of the state-run Korea Land & Housing Corp. and other public sector officials, which rocked the nation in March.

The special government investigative team must also accelerate their probes, particularly into the allegations against Rep. Kim, which could lead to more severe legal penalties.

The state anti-corruption agency needs to be more active in implementing its role, which remains ambiguous to the public since it was set up in 2008.

By Korea Herald (koreaherald@heraldcorp.com)
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