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[Editorial] Next-door mystery

GH rents apartment next to Lee ‘by chance’ as employee lodging

The Gyeonggi Housing and Urban Development Corp. (GH) is reportedly renting an apartment right next door to Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

A public enterprise affiliated with the Gyeonggi Provincial Government is said to have leased Lee’s next-door apartment in August 2020 when Lee was governor of the province. The lease period is two years. It was on a “jeonse” lease in which tenants pay landlords a lump-sum deposit and get it back when they move out. The jeonse price is 950 million won ($794,000), too expensive for accommodating low-ranking employees temporarily until a project ends.

The corporation said the apartment is used by four employees belonging to the Pangyo Techno Valley II project group who have difficulties commuting.

The corporation is said to hold 133 lodgings rented for employees. In Seongnam, it has only one dwelling -- and it is located next to Lee’s apartment, of all places. This seems too coincidental.

The GH chief executive at the time of renting the apartment currently chairs one of Lee’s campaign committees.

He is a lawyer who served Seongnam Football Club and Jubilee Bank as a legal adviser in 2015.

He was inaugurated as GH’s chief executive in February 2019 and resigned in November 2021.

Lee was Seongnam mayor from July 2010 to March 2018, and Gyeonggi governor from July 2018 to October 2021.

The former GH chief is said to have played an important role in designing Lee’s “basic house” election pledge based on his ideology of economic equality.

Then he says he did not know Lee was living next door to the apartment in question. This sounds ridiculous.

The main opposition People Power Party suspects the apartment of being used as a hidden organization for Lee’s presidential campaign. The Democratic Party of Korea dismisses the suspicions, calling them false reports. It says that Lee and his campaign office were in the dark about the GH lodging next to his home.

The corporation chimed in, saying it did not know Lee lived next door to the apartment until it heard the news.

Those living in apartments would hardly believe that. It is hard for a next-door neighbor of such a high-profile figure as Lee not to know who was living next door. The two apartments are on the same floor with no other units.

The couple who lived in the apartment before it was leased out to the corporation are said to be close to the Lee couple. The husband, who ran a bodyguard service company, was employed specially as a department manager of Seongnam Arts Center in October 2011 when Lee was Seongnam mayor and chair of the center‘s board. The wife was said to have accompanied Lee’s wife and two sons when they went to Canada for study.

Given their close relationship, it is hard to believe that the Lee couple know nothing about what happened to their next-door neighbor’s apartment.

People speculate the GH lodging might be the reason why Lee’s wife sent a public official on an errand of purchasing as many as 10 servings of sushi and 30 sandwiches on a government credit card and bringing them to the door of her apartment.

Some posts on an anonymous online forum for employees allege the GH CEO had earmarked the address of the lodging beforehand, and that the CEO instructed the four employees to figure out Lee’s election pledges.

Lee’s campaign office and the corporation argue it was a coincidence. But several hard-to-understand coincidences have overlapped.

Suspicions about Lee’s next-door apartment surfaced when allegations about a public servant who ran errands for Lee’s wife on a government credit card were not cleared up.

If it is true that Lee’s next-door apartment was used as his campaign hideout and tax was spent on operating it, that could be a serious crime entirely different from using government credit cards privately.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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