Opposition leader accused of holding stake in scandal-ridden land development project

November 21, 2022

A lawyer standing trial in a land development corruption scandal in Seongnam, just south of Seoul, said Monday that he had heard that opposition leader Lee Jae-myung held a stake in one of the partners in the project.

Nam Wook made the allegations during a hearing at the Seoul Central District Court on the so-called Daejang-dong development scandal, hours after being released from prison at midnight Sunday due to the expiration of his detention period.

The scandal centers on the allegations that a small number of unheard-of private asset management companies, including Hwacheon Daeyu and Cheonhwadongin No. 1, were allowed to reap astronomical investment profits from a real estate development project in Seongnam’s Daejang-dong district in 2015, when Democratic Party (DP) leader Lee was the city’s mayor.

Nam testified in the court that he had known since February 2015 that Cheonhwadongin No. 1 belonged to the office of then Seongnam Mayor Lee and he heard that from Kim Man-bae, the owner of Hwacheon Daeyu.

The lawyer went on to say that he will now begin to tell the truth (about the owner of Cheonhwadongin No. 1), though he did not do so during previous questioning by prosecutors last year due to many reasons, including the presidential election.

“There was an election at that time, and I was too scared and dazed to speak frankly,” Nam said when asked why he failed to tell the truth last year. He also insisted last month that Lee’s side held a significant share in the Daejang-dong project’s private partners.

The scandal’s suspects previously said Kim is the real owner of Cheonhwadongin No. 1, which was given a dividend of 120.8 billion won (US$89 million), but many of them have recently reversed their testimonies to argue that Lee’s side owned a hidden share in the partner.

Kim has persistently claimed the ownership of Cheonhwadongin No. 1, but Nam, accountant Jeong Young-hak and Yoo Dong-gyu, former acting president of Seongnam Development Corp. and a key suspect in the development scandal, have recently disclosed that there was a secret promise among them to give 42.8 billion won to Lee’s side.

Nam also said he delivered 352 million won to Yoo in 2013 after being told that the money will be handed over to two of Lee’s closest aides — Jeong Jin-sang and Kim Yong.

Jeong and Kim Yong, who held senior posts in the DP, have been put under arrest on charges of corruption and bribery related to the Daejang-dong scandal suspects.

Lawyer Nam Wook speaks to reporters before attending a hearing on the Daejang-dong scandal at the Seoul Central District Court in southern Seoul on Nov. 21, 2022. (Yonhap)

Lawyer Nam Wook speaks to reporters before attending a hearing on the Daejang-dong scandal at the Seoul Central District Court in southern Seoul on Nov. 21, 2022. (Yonhap)

Yoo has also testified in the same court that he, Jeong and Kim Yong were together entitled to 70 billion won of Cheonhwadongin No. 1′s dividend.

Jeong, a vice chief of staff to the DP chairman, was put under pretrial detention last Saturday on charges of receiving about 140 million won (US$106,100) from Yoo and other real estate developers in Seongnam between 2013 and 2020 in return for offering business favors.

Kim Yong, deputy head of the DP’s Institute for Democracy think tank, was indicted on Nov. 8 on charges of receiving 847 million won in illegal political funds from the same property developers.

But Lee and his two arrested aides have flatly denied the corruption allegations, dismissing them as a “poorly written novel.”