(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Dec. 23)

A special prosecutor is the answer

Successive suicides by key suspects behind the Daejang-dong development scandal dumbfound the public. Their last-minute choice only helps deepen public distrust in the prosecution, which has dragged its feet in its investigation of the suspicious development project in Seongnam City, which was endorsed by former mayor Lee Jae-myung — now the presidential candidate for the ruling Democratic Party (DP). After their deaths, it gets even harder for the top law enforcement agency to find who really orchestrated the highly profitable project that gave hundreds of millions of dollars to a few investors.

Following the suicide on Dec. 10 of Yoo Han-ki, former head of the construction development team at Seongnam Development Corporation (SDC), Kim Moon-gi, director of the project development team at the public corporation, was found dead Tuesday. Both officials spearheaded the Daejang-dong development project in 2015 under Yoo Dong-gyu — former chief of the planning headquarters of the SDC and a close aid to DP presidential candidate Lee. Yoo Dong-gyu is put behind bars for corruption. With the suicide of Yoo Han-ki, the prosecution will struggle to find who was really at the top.

Kim — the project development team director who is thought to have committed suicide on Tuesday — was a key man who knew the details of the removal of a sensitive clause on how to redeem excess profits from the project. Thanks to the elimination of the clause, a few members of Hwacheon Daeyu — an asset management company — raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in excess profit. Despite the appearance of his name in the prosecution’s indictments of four members of Hwacheon Daeyu, Kim claimed Monday that he had just followed an order from Chung Min-yong, a lawyer and former chief of the investment division at SDC, to take out the clause from a written contract.

Kim’s suicide could possibly be linked to psychological pressure after the indictment of Chung on Tuesday. Kim also had to receive an inspection from the SDC over showing Chung a secret internal document. The problem is that the prosecution’s investigation faces a critical obstacle after the suicides of the two key suspects. Won Hee-ryong, policy chief of the opposition People Power Party (PPP), raised suspicions of “pressure from above.”

After the two officials’ suicides, the prosecution’s possible coercive investigation and pressures or cajoling from above also should be investigated. If the prosecution and the police once again choose to protract their investigation, it must be dealt with by a special prosecutor. Nevertheless, DP members of the Seongnam city council have voted down any attempts to look into the city government over past development projects led by the city, including in Daejang-dong. If that’s not legislative tyranny, what really is?

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