SEONGNAM, South Korea — Three potential accusers have died in “mafia” scandals that threatened to engulf one of the top two contenders in a tight race to become the south KoreaThe next president’s.
The ruling party’s candidate for the top job is suspected of profiting heavily from a multimillion-dollar real estate scam that allegedly included members of organized crime in his homeland. His Seongnam.
Three men who may have had access to accursed information about Lee Jae-myung’s murky past as the mayor of Seongnam, have been dead for more than two months.
Just a few weeks before the big moment presidential electionA veil of silence has fallen over this resplendent city on the southern edge of Seoul.
Family members of three executives carrying the secrets of a major real estate deal have not spoken publicly, and other insiders have remained silent.
“People are afraid to talk,” Jang Young-ha, a lawyer who has watched Lee for years, told The Daily Beast.
Lee’s aides, who served as mayor of this glittering city of one million people for nearly eight years, were accused of being “Hearsay” any ties between him, as well as mysterious deaths and the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars into secret coffers.
What is certainly not produced, however, is the startling fact that two of the top people of Seongnam Development Corporation committed suicide in December shortly before they were questioned for bribery related charges. to the huge real estate project that Lee holds. shaking. Then, last month, a third man died of a heart attack after saying that a local company had taken out huge sums of money to cover Lee’s legal fees in an entirely different case. , in which he was accused of lying as he denied anything involved. His brother was committed to a mental hospital many years ago.
Lee, while in office from 2010 to 2018, had the authority to order the cheap purchase of land for a development and then subdivide it into public-private property. “As mayor, he has a lot of power,” said Jang.
At issue was what became a profit of about one hundred million dollars, accrued by a property management company that took over the project without having to compete for the bid. The government has denied any request for an investigation that the opposition People’s Party believes will be directed to Lee. The presidential candidate has not been charged and denies any complicity in the deal.
The cases, in which Lee’s involvement are suspected but not proven, are transforming a city that has mushroomed over the past 30 years as a centrally planned project bringing in new wealth into a suburb where people once existed on the margins of poverty. For a generation, say those who have watched Seongnam’s rapid rise, it has attracted gangsters known as the “mafia” locally thanks to the Godfather movies and series of films. Other American criminals appear on Korean TVs and computers.
The local mafiosi may have nothing to do with any international criminal organization, but the “Seongnam mafia,” like criminal organizations everywhere, subsists on bribery, compensation and favors. while getting rich from internet sports gambling, which is said to be their main source of income. To the locals here, the mafia’s hand is seen in those three deaths and in threats scary enough to create its own omerta or code of silence.
“Mafia is in power here. They are the only ones who can do these things.”
After Lee became governor of Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital Seoul and the port city of Incheon, “suspicions arose” that he was “related to a gangster organization,” JoongAng Ilbo, one of Korea’s major national newspapers, reported. The newspaper said the organization is named “Gukje Mafia” – “gukje” means “international” – and is headquartered in Seongnam.
“Does the name contain a desire to start in the local area and influence politics and business like the Mafia?” the article questioned, implying that the influence of the mafia could extend beyond the confines of Seongnam city. A member of the National Assembly, the newspaper reported, dare to linked him to the gang, saying at a hearing, “You can’t cover the sky with the palm of your hand, the essence is clear.”
Lee, completely denying any such links, demanded that the politician apologize and resign.
A businessman who knows the city well said the need for silence could more easily lead to two men taking their own lives than telling prosecutors about a scandal that could lead to the house. President.
“The Mafia holds power here,” said the Seongnam insider, who requested anonymity. “They’re the only ones who can do these things.”
“They can tell these men, we will kill your family, your wife, your children,” he told The Daily Beast as the restaurant manager poured another bottle of soju from the bottle beside him. ta. “They may live in prison, but the mafia will blame them for whatever they say and take revenge.”
Three of the people who spoke to The Daily Beast willingly identified themselves, exchanging name tags with me after I told them I was a journalist, but I understand I will not reveal the identity of anyone. anyone. In the conversations here, “sensitive” is the word observant. Whether nervous about participating in any controversial political debate or worried about retribution or revenge, everyone spoke on condition of anonymity.
Lee presents himself as a poor man’s friend while waging a well-funded campaign against the conservative candidate of the People’s Power Party, Yoon Suk-yeol. He denied knowing the dead and claimed to not know what they had done.
The scandal, which continues to attract media attention across South Korea, is threatening to drag him down as polls show him faltering in the campaign leading up to the 9th presidential election. March.
Lee is a close ally of incumbent President Moon Jae-in, who cannot run for a second five-year term under South Korea’s constitution. He will strengthen Moon’s mandate for reconciliation and dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including a joint agreement with the United States, China and the two Koreas to declare the Korean War over. 1953 in an armed truce, not a peace treaty. finish.
His opponent Yoon advocated a return to a hard-line policy, calling for a “rebuilding” of the fractured relationship with the US while demanding that North Korea give up its nuclear program as a precondition for North Korea’s nuclear program. any deal with North Korea.
However, it is the local mafia, not North Korea, that causes fear here.
What happened to the huge amount of money generated by the project has been the subject of much speculation, but what is known is that the two men who committed suicide, Kim Moon-gi and Yu Han-ki, both worked for the project. Seongnam Development Corporation. Three other people are behind bars, including the head of the group, Yoo Dong-kyu, plus an investor and a lawyer. “Yoo was caught in the early stages,” Jang said. “That’s why he couldn’t kill himself.”
As for Lee Byung-chul, the third deceased, he is said to be the whistleblower who may have voluntarily turned himself over to prosecutors. He embarrassed Lee Jae-myung’s team by releasing the scoreboard a phone conversation with a lawyer about the huge fees charged to defend Lee Jae-myung
Once swore on social media that he would never commit suicide, Lee Byung-chul was said to have gone missing for three days before his body was discovered in a hotel room. Police said he died of a heart attack, but there was no post mortem and he was rumored to have been poisoned.
“I don’t think he died of a heart attack,” Kang Yong-seok, a lawyer and media personality, told the Daily Beast. “A week ago, he didn’t have any symptoms of illness.” Kang, a controversial panelist and colorful talk show host, yaks openly about the implications of the case. The other two “were manipulated to commit suicide,” he said. “Lee has a lot of hidden money.”
“After the election, if unsuccessful, he will go to jail.”
Besides denying anything to do with the deaths of the three men that might have involved him in the real estate case, Lee Jae-myung also has to fight allegations of abusing an older brother, Lee Jae-sun, in which Lee and him. his wife tried to force him into a mental hospital. Jae-sun, an accountant, makes Jae-myung, when he was mayor, angered Jae-myung by declaring corruption in a real estate project.
Jang Young-ha herself ran as a conservative for mayor of Seongnam and remains a force in political debates. He is best known these days for a book written in Korean, “Good-by Lee Jae-Myung,” which exposes Lee’s campaign against his brother, who died in 2017. book, a bestseller here, depicts Lee and his wife repeatedly harassing the brother, often with abusive language, after he dared to criticize him publicly. A judge at the Seoul district court denied Lee’s Democratic Party request to ban the book.
“If Lee becomes president, he will use [the presidency] as a weapon,” Jang told The Daily Beast.
Locals say that Lee needs to win to be able to appoint prosecutors who certainly won’t pursue charges against him.
Kang Yong-seok spoke more bluntly. Lee’s organization is “primarily criminal,” he said. “After the election, if he loses, he will go to jail.”