[Newsmaker] Lawmaker accused of real estate speculation quits ruling party

By Kim Bo-gyung

Rep. Sohn vows to get to the bottom of allegations

  • Published : Jan 20, 2019 - 16:04
  • Updated : Jan 20, 2019 - 16:06

Rep. Sohn Hye-won of the ruling Democratic Party on Sunday cut ties with the party over alleged property speculation, but nevertheless vigorously denied the allegations.

Sohn maintained her initial stance that her relatives and aides had invested in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, to “revive the southern city.”

“I cannot push the public into a meaningless war of attrition. I will give up my party membership,” Sohn said in a joint press conference held with party floor leader Rep. Hong Young-pyo at the National Assembly.

“If any (of the allegations) proves to be true after the prosecution’s inquiry, I will give up my parliamentary seat.”

Denying reports, Sohn clarified that she had no intention of running for a parliamentary seat in Mokpo in next year’s general election.

She also vowed legal action against network broadcaster SBS and other media outlets that carried reports suggesting she had engaged in real estate speculation.

Last week SBS reported that from March 2017 to September 2018 Sohn had encouraged relatives, aides and a foundation led by her husband to purchase nine buildings that together occupied 991 square meters within an old district of Mokpo, which was later designated a “modern history and culture space.”

Rep. Sohn Hye-won answers questions at a press conference at the National Assembly in western Seoul on Sunday after announcing her decision to leave the ruling party amid snowballing allegations of property speculation. (Yonhap)

The report alleged that Sohn had used her authority and access to information as chief of a parliamentary culture committee to benefit economically from the purchases, knowing the Cultural Heritage Administration would soon identify the area as culturally significant.

Following the report, Sohn found herself embroiled in a tit-for-tat with the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, which pressured her to give up her parliamentary seat and undergo investigation by the prosecution.

The party criticized Sohn over the press conference, calling it “meaningless” and referring to the latest allegations as “Sohn Hye-won land gate.”

Weighing in, Park Jie-won of the minor liberal Party for Democracy and Peace, whose electoral district includes Mokpo, at first backed Sohn but changed his stance overnight and posted the following message Saturday on social media: “We have been deceived. It is not too late. Come forth about the truth and undergo investigation by the prosecution. I sincerely hope you will make Mokpo quiet.”

“Through the parliamentary culture committee, I worked to realize a world I had dreamed of. Even before I became a member of parliament, I had sought to revive cities by making the most of the history and the cultural identities of rural regions,” Sohn said at the press conference.

Last week on social media, Sohn insisted she had sought to revitalize the old district of Mokpo at her own expense, mentioning plans to relocate to Mokpo a museum she owns in Seoul and saying she had borrowed 1.1 billion won ($979,955) from banks to do so.

According to SBS, eight of the nine buildings purchased by Sohn’s family and acquaintances were purchased before the area, which spans some 114,000 square meters, was identified as culturally important.

Mokpo City plans to invest 50 billion won in the modern history and culture space between now and 2023, and most of that amount will be spent to purchase and renovate buildings in the area. 

By Kim Bo-gyung (