The Korea Herald


Daejang-dong scandal back in spotlight, but parties split on special probe

Democratic Party pushes to pass a bill and start special probe before Yoon takes power

By Ko Jun-tae

Published : March 15, 2022 - 14:04

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Rep. Yun Ho-jung, head of the emergency steering committee for the liberal Democratic Party of Korea, speaks during a meeting Monday. (Joint Press Corps) Rep. Yun Ho-jung, head of the emergency steering committee for the liberal Democratic Party of Korea, speaks during a meeting Monday. (Joint Press Corps)
South Korea’s political circle is again discussing a special counsel inspection on the controversial Daejang-dong land development scandal, but whether it will actually start remains in question.

The liberal Democratic Party of Korea’s suggestion on the matter is starkly different to that of the People Power Party, fanning the possibility that it may never materialize.

The scandal revolves around former Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party and President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party. The case started with allegations surrounding Lee but later on grew to raise suspicions on Yoon’s possible involvement.

A prosecutorial investigation began in September from allegations that Lee, then the leading presidential candidate for the ruling camp, gave business favors to Hwacheon Daeyu in 2015 to help the firm take part in a land development project in Seongnam’s Daejang-dong when he was mayor of the city.

He is accused of unlawfully aiding Hwacheon Daeyu, which allegedly started with capital of 350 million won ($281,000) and gained more than 400 billion won in dividends.

Lee has denied all allegations made against him and testified in multiple occasions that he was not aware of the key informants and officials involved in the case, saying the only misdeed he might have is not carefully monitoring the corruptive acts done on his watch.

The case grew as time went by, and Democratic Party officials later asserted that Yoon could also be involved in the scandal by using his prosecutorial position to cover up an investigation into an illegal landing case connected to the development project.

The liberal Democratic Party looks to start a special counsel inspection on the Daejang-dong scandal by passing a related bill within this month at the National Assembly. Its legislators argue that both parties were united on the need to start the inspection, so there should be no problem in starting one immediately.

The Democratic Party controls 172 out of 300 seats at the National Assembly, and with sheer dominance in the parliament, it looks to start a special probe while it has more power than later, when Yoon is inaugurated as the new president.

Kicking off the special probe while President Moon Jae-in is in power will also be helpful, as the appointment itself has to be done by the president in power.

Yoon has also agreed that the Daejang-dong scandal is a case that needs attention from the political circle, saying Sunday that “we must take whatever measures are needed to uncover the truth of the corruption.”

But the People Power Party is against what the Democratic Party has proposed as a bill to start the special probe, arguing that the liberal party is attempting to influence how the probe will unfold by controlling who will be selected to lead the special counsel inspection.

The bill proposed by the Democratic Party has a committee of seven officials deciding who will be appointed as a special prosecutor for the case. The Democratic Party will be appointing four out of seven committee members, which the conservative party argues is a clear attempt to meddle with the probe.

The People Power Party insists that officials should leave the prosecution to finish its investigation before discussing the need to kick off a special probe. It hopes the prosecution would be less lenient on Democratic Party figures since Yoon, with extensive career in the prosecution, has won the presidency.