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Culture or cash? (KOR)

Jan 21,2019
Suspicions are mounting against Ruling Democratic Party Rep. Sohn Hye-won over her speculative real estate holdings despite her fervent claim of innocence by putting her career and wealth on the line if found otherwise. Sohn denies any wrongdoings and vowed to surrender her “legislative seat, assets, and life” if found guilty. She later raised the stakes by resigning her party membership Sunday. The only way to find the truth is a legislative or criminal investigation.

The creation of so-called Sohn town in Mokpo, South Jeolla, raises numerous questions. Her purchase of property in a state-designated cultural site doubled over a day. Sohn and her family members were reported to hold 10 properties, but according to land ownership registrations with the Cultural Heritage Administration, 17 buildings and three sites were traced to Sohn and her family. Of the 20 Sohn-related properties, 14 were purchased in August last year when the site gained recognition as a cultural heritage location. Half, or seven, were Japanese-style wooden buildings. She claims she was using her personal wealth to preserve Mokpo’s cultural heritage.

Sohn’s brother, whose son was registered as one of the co-owners of two buildings, including Changsungjang, a guesthouse renovated out of an old Japanese-style residence, in an interview admitted that his son only lent his registered seal as he had been serving in the military at the time of purchase. His comment implies the property was purchased under a borrowed name. The buyer must live in the property to avoid accusations of speculation.

The three co-owners of the guesthouse do not know one another. Sohn’s husband claimed their parents made the investment on behalf of their children, believing in the future. He has more or less admitted to making a purchase for personal gain.

Sohn’s real estate investment raises strong suspicions of profiteering under the pretext of cultural heritage protection. Park Jie-won of the Party for Democracy and Peace, who defended his former colleague, changed his mind upon learning she owned 20 property sites. What also must be explained is whether she had influence in creating the 7 trillion won ($6.2 billion) fund to subsidize the promotion of the Mokpo cultural site in this year’s budget. The budget was not included in the government-proposed spending outline for 2019 and was created during the legislative negotiation.

Sohn acted as a sniper from the ruling party to attack Shin Jae-min, a whistle-blower from the Finance Ministry, by accusing him of trying to make money. It is dumbfounding that a lawmaker vowing to defend Korean cultural heritage could have made investments for personal gains. The legislative and law enforcement must start an investigation.

JoongAng Sunday, Jan. 19, Page 30