Solar power projects carried out during the Moon Jae-in administration appear likely to come under the scrutiny of law enforcement, raising speculations of a more far-reaching probe aimed at the previous government.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, President Yoon Suk-yeol said that alleged irregularities in solar power projects will be processed through the “standard legal system,” saying that the developments were “deplorable.”
“The people’s taxes should be used for those in difficulty, welfare and support, but (taxes were) used for this kind of cartel of private interests,” Yoon said, adding that areas in violation of the law will be “processed through the standard legal system.”
Yoon was responding to a question regarding the findings that a significant portion of government subsidies for solar power projects were issued in violation of laws, or unfairly.
On Tuesday, the anti-corruption taskforce under the Prime Minister’s Office did a sample survey of 12 local governments out of 226, which found that 261.6 billion won ($187.8 million) of subsidies paid out in 2,267 cases were given in violation of regulations in a recent review. The survey looked at 2.1 trillion won out of the 12 trillion won power industry.
The anti-corruption taskforce plans to expand the review to look at solar power-related subsidies given out by 226 local governments across the country.
Following the announcement by the taskforce, the ruling People Power Party quickly raised pressure, calling for a thorough probe into how related policies were drawn up.
People Power Party floor leader Rep. Kweon Seong-dong on Wednesday accused the Moon administration’s renewable energy policies as a “hotbed of corruption” and called for a sweeping review, and for all related projects to be reconsidered.
“It must be clearly revealed whether miscalculation of policy led to corruption, or whether bad projects were drawn up to create (room for) corruption, and whether political pressure was involved in the process,” Kweon said, in an apparent jab at the Moon administration and the former ruling Democratic Party of Korea, which is currently the main opposition party.
The party’s policy committee chief Rep. Sung Il-jong took a step further, demanding an apology from the Democratic Party. Sung also called for those behind the projects to be held legally responsible.
In response, the Democratic Party accused the ruling bloc of trying to “erase” the previous administration, and Yoon of giving “investigation guidelines.”
The Democratic Party's floor leader Rep. Park Hong-keun hinted at the current administration having ulterior motives.
"(I) cannot tell whether (the matter) appears the way it does from a former prosecutor's view, or if (the intention) is to comb through everything including the previous administration's policies to cover up their incompetence," Park said Thursday.
"If there were irregularities, they must be set right, but if (the administration) is trying to create a pretext for strengthening nuclear power, that would be going against the times."
Solar power was a major branch of the Moon Jae-in administration’s energy policies aimed at increasing renewables and moving towards carbon neutrality.
However, some major solar power projects came under fire for inefficiency and insufficient maintenance. In addition, some accused local and central governments under the Moon administration of approving solar panels without proper assessment, leading to loss of forests and other environmental issues.