Gov’t data shows half of top public officials own land amid snowballing scandal

March 24, 2021

About half of top officials at the central government and state-run institutions own land as part of their wealth, a government report showed Thursday, amid mounting public outrage over a land speculation scandal involving public officials.

According to the annual government report showing the latest state of personal wealth of 759 high-ranking officials at the central government and state-run institutions, 51.1 percent, or 388, possessed land as part of their wealth.

Some of them owned land in areas designated as the sites of the latest state-led housing development project, but there were no circumstances indicating the assets were obtained for speculation.

The Public Servant’s Ethics Act mandates the disclosure of wealth of ranking civil servants and state-run institution employees, such as ministers, vice ministers, top prosecutors, and presidents of public corporations and state-run universities.

The report came in light of a snowballing controversy surrounding alleged speculative land purchases by employees at the Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH), the state housing supply arm, based on insider knowledge.

At least 20 LH employees are suspected of having purchased huge swathes of undeveloped land around Seoul over a few years with undisclosed information on plans to construct major residential towns there. The scandal has rocked the nation as it emerged at a time when public anger over the nation’s soaring housing and rent prices is running high.

This file photo from March 15, 2021, shows flyers posted on a utility pole advertising a land sale offer in Yeonseo-myeon in Sejong, some 120 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

This file photo from March 15, 2021, shows flyers posted on a utility pole advertising a land sale offer in Yeonseo-myeon in Sejong, some 120 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

The land owned by top civil servants was estimated to be worth 100.7 billion won (US$88.8 million) combined.

Of the officials, 95, or 12.5 percent, owned land in the greater Seoul region worth 43.3 billion won in total. Seventeen, or 2.2 percent, owned land in areas chosen for the government’s third “new town” development project.

When widening the scope, such as including heads of local governments, municipal councilors and local education superintendents, the report showed that 1,885 top officials on average owned 1.4 billion won worth of wealth per person — also taking into account non-land properties, financial equities and savings.

On average, the net worth of top officials’ wealth increased by around 131 million won from a year ago.

President Moon Jae-in’s wealth increased by 127 million won to 2.07 billion won. Among others in Cheong Wa Dae, Suh Hoon, the president’s national security adviser, was the richest, with his net worth increasing around 300 million won to 4.53 billion won.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun’s wealth decreased by around 560 million won to 4.49 billion won. Among Cabinet members, Science Minister Choi Ki-young was the richest, owning 11.93 billion won worth of wealth.

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