SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Thursday the government was declaring war on property crime amid widening accusations of insider speculation by dozens of employees of the state housing corporation.
The growing scandal has sparked outrage in South Korea as property prices in and around the capital Seoul have soared, making affordable housing hard to find.
Chung said after an initial probe at least 20 employees of the Korea Land and Housing Corp. were suspected of trying to use classified knowledge to buy undeveloped land just before new development projects were slated to begin in those areas.
“The government will never forgive the crimes of the public corporation and the public servants who filled their pockets by exploiting the people’s dreams and hope,” Chung told a briefing
He said it would be up to the government to restore public trust, and that the initial probe was just the beginning of a wider investigation and effort to punish anyone found guilty.
“The government hereby declares war on property crime,” Chung said.
An investigative parliamentary committee established by the opposition People Power Party identified at least 74 additional Korea Land and Housing Corp employees suspected of property speculation, beyond the initial 13 named this week, according to documents provided to Reuters by lawmaker Kwak Sang-do.
Those employees had conducted 64 suspicious land deals since 2018, the documents said, and Kwak’s office said the committee planned to expand its probe to include transportation ministry workers as well.
Noh Woong-rae, a member of the ruling Democratic Party, said further investigation was needed to determine fact from fiction amid so many allegations of wrongdoing, but he said Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Byeon Chang-heum should consider stepping down.
Byeon served as head of the Korea Land and Housing Corporation from April 2019 until December 2020, when he was nominated as minister.
Byeon – who is not among the employees named – has apologised for the scandal and said he would cooperate with investigators. The current executive vice president has also apologised and pledged to cooperate.
The property speculation scandal comes a month before a by-election that will decide several key offices, including the mayors of the country’s two largest cities, Seoul and Busan.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith; Editing by Alison Williams)