The corruption scandal surrounding former Seongnam Mayor Lee Dae-yub and his relatives is beyond imagination. Among 17 people charged, six were Lees nephews, nephews-in-law and the son of one of the nephews. Prosecutors found bundles of cash in U.S. dollars and Japanese yen and premium 50-year-old whiskey worth 12 million won (10,400 dollars) at Lees home. He is known to have received 1.5 billion won (1.3 million dollars) in bribes, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.
His familys crimes range from bribery in return for private contracts for land development districts, manipulation of receipts, and inference in provincial government positions. With Lees arrest, all three Seongnam mayors elected by popular vote have been arrested. Their crimes were found after they left office.
Corruption by provincial government chiefs is on the rise. Former Yeosu Mayor Oh Hyun-seop was arrested in August on the charge of receiving 1 billion won (868,000 dollars) in bribes and giving the money to seven city councilors. Former Dangjin County Gov. Min Jong-ki, who was arrested after trying to flee overseas, received an apartment and villa and dragged a female employee into his crimes.
The reason corruption prevails in the provinces is mainly election contributions and high election costs. Provincial heads need money to get elected and must collect money to use for their reelection. A prime example is former Yangsan Mayor Oh Geun-seop, who committed suicide in January after being caught accepting bribes to repay election debt.
Political parties should exclude candidates nominated by parties or filter out those prone to corruption. Voters should chose candidates less likely to stray by closely examining their records and spending tendencies. The party that provincial government chiefs belong to frequently coincides with the majority party of regional government councils, meaning that such councils and provincial heads can become partners in crime.
In February, a law was enacted to hire an auditor for a two-year term at regional governments in areas with a population of more than 300,000. This is insufficient to fundamentally prevent corruption by provincial government heads, however. The Board of Audit and Inspection should establish measures to ensure constant audits and ensure higher levels of professionalism, independence and effectiveness.