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[Editorial] Lee’s property

President Lee must regret that he followed the advice of his aides to buy property in his son’s name to build a house for his retirement. He must feel doubly sorry that his own party showed little sympathy for him and instead regarded him as a burden in the upcoming elections.

The land in Naegok-dong, Seoul, was purchased last May in a way that could invite the accusation of violating the law on the use of real names in buying properties. Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik asserted in the National Assembly that no law was violated in the transaction, but the president eventually decided to give up the land in question. The chief of the presidential security force offered to resign over his involvement in the property deal.

Presidential aides tried to justify the land purchase by proxy, arguing that it was necessary to keep the retirement house plan secret for security reasons. They also feared the possibility of the sellers’ raising the price. For these hardly convincing purposes, the presidential family cheated the owners of the nine plots of land with a combined price of over 5 billion won. To pay his portion of the price, Lee’s son Si-hyong borrowed money from a bank and a relative and paid 2.5 million won a month as interest.

Then why is Lee bothered by all these troubles? One suspicion led to another and oppositionists went so far as to add accusations of embezzlement and breach of trust plus the violation of the real name law. Now the prime minister, a former Supreme Court justice, could face charges of false testimony at parliamentary interpellation.

The controversy, as we see it, started from the presidential family’s reluctance to return to their old house in Nonhyeon-dong, which is fairly large but is said to be unable to accommodate bodyguards. We just cannot understand why a retired president needs a sizeable security force that requires not only lodging but training facilities adjoining the ex-president’s residence.

Lee donated most of his personal property to a scholarship foundation as he promised during his presidential campaign. With a year and a half to go until retirement, his short-sighted aides devised the property purchase scheme simply for the sake of convenience. Here, the president should not have risked losing public trust in his integrity. The best advice to him is to seek real peace as a humble citizen, forgetting about the privileges accorded him for five short years.
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