Politicians and high-ranking government officials owning more than one house are coming under growing pressure to dispose of properties as the government is preparing steps to hike tax burdens for owners of multiple homes.
This is part of efforts to curb soaring housing prices.
Housing prices have continued to surge in many parts of South Korea since President Moon Jae-in took office in 2017, sparking strong discontent among those in their 30s and 40s, the main support group for the government.
This has pressed the government to take stern actions to curb property speculations and stabilise the house market, particularly in the densely populated Seoul and its adjacent areas.
After the government’s rounds of market stabilization measures yielded no tangible results, Moon on Monday pledged “utmost efforts” to curb market speculation, labeling the task of bringing the property market under control as “the top priority for people’s livelihood.”
Preparing another round of measures against the property market fever, the government and the ruling party are considering additional options to increase property taxes on owners of multiple houses while hiking tax burdens on short-term house transactions.
As possession of multiple houses has become a point of criticism, civic groups came forward to demand that lawmakers and high-rank government officials take the lead and become the first to sell houses they don’t live in.
The Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice, an influential Seoul-based civic group, announced during a press conference Tuesday that 42 ruling party lawmakers elected in the April 15 parliamentary elections owned two or more houses in breach of their election promises.
The revelation is based on its analysis of reports that 180 candidates of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and its satellite party submitted to the National Election Commission about their assets ahead of the elections.
The lawmakers then had pledged to sell off their real estate properties except their current residences in two years but did not carry out their promises, the group noted.
“While threatening people to sell houses, (DP lawmakers) have been rather encouraging market speculation behind their backs,” the civic group argued, urging the lawmakers to live up to the election promises.
The group also claimed that over the past three years under the Moon Jae-in administration, apartment prices in Seoul shot up 52 per cent, laying the blame of the market craze on the government and the ruling party’s real estate policy deemed largely unsuccessful.
Another civic group, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, on Wednesday pressed multiple home-owning members of the two parliamentary committees in charge of real estate policy — the land and finance committees — to unload properties or give up their committee seats.
According to the civic group, 16 of the 56 lawmakers belonging to the two committees — 10 from the main opposition United Future Party and six from the DP — currently own more than one home.
“Multiple home-owning members of the two committees … should dispose of their assets in order to avoid conflict of interest and improve public trust in their legislation, or they should move to other committees that do not address legislation on real estate and housing,” the group said at a news conference.
The group stressed high-ranking officials at the land and finance ministries should follow suit to sell off unneeded houses or be dismissed from policy-making posts that involve real estate.
As politicians and government officials became the focus of scrutiny, the president’s Chief of Staff Noh Young-min came under fire for owning two apartments — one in Seoul’s Seocho Ward, which reported one of the highest rates of price growth in past years, and the other in a regional city of Cheongju.
After Moon “strongly advised” his presidential aides last week to sell any additional homes they own, Noh pledged to sell the apartment in Cheongju last week.
This, however, led to more finger-pointing to Noh’s reluctance to part with property in one of the poshest neighborhoods in Seoul.
Criticism also came from inside the ruling party, including calls for Noh’s resignation raised by some party officials.
On Tuesday, former prime minister, Rep. Lee Nak-yon of the DP, expressed hope that Noh would sell the house in Seoul, during a news conference to declare his candidacy for the party’s leadership race.
Noh finally gave in to the growing heat and announced Wednesday his decision to unload the Seoul apartment as well.
“Unlike my intention, my decision to sell the apartment in Cheongju instead of the one in Seoul happened to look as if I was sticking to the latter, and this fell short of people’s expectations,” the presidential chief of staff said in his Facebook account, offering his apology.
He said the previous decision was made in consideration of his family living in the Seoul apartment now, but he will dispose of it as soon as a new home is arranged for his family.
Other Cheong Wa Dae officials are likely to follow suit after 12 high-level presidential aides have been advised to dispose of their second or third houses within this month.
The civic group also accused National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug of suspected property speculation.
It argued the price of Rep. Park’s apartment in Seoul’s Seocho Ward jumped more than 2.3 billion won (United States$1.9 million) over the past four years. Park, however, dismissed the allegation, stressing that he has lived in the apartment for 40 years.
As public ire continues over deep-pocketed property investment by some politicians and high-level officials, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun prodded public officials Wednesday to sell off houses if they have more than one.
“If high-ranking public officials (continue to) own several houses, any property measures (to stabilise the market) cannot easily win public trust.
There can be no valid measures at all,” Chung told a regular virus response meeting, attended by high-level officials from various government agencies.
“Each ministry should promptly study property holdings of its high-ranking officials and have them sell if they have more than one house,” Chung instructed the officials.
“(We) are in a serious period when high-rank public officials need to take the initiative and set an example.”
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)
German state premier to support town affected by United States troop withdrawal
The premier of the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate has pledged support to one of the regions affected by the withdrawal of United States troops from Germany.
“Whatever happens (at the military base) in Spangdahlem in the end – and we hope it will be very little – the state will of course support the local council and municipalities with the necessary measures,” Malu Dreyer said on Monday during talks with local officials.
The main aim was to maintain the United States military base in Spangdahlem and for the United States announcement to be reversed, the minister said.
“We are fighting for the site,” Dreyer added.
In the past week, the United States announced it would transfer F-16 fighter jets stationed in the town in the west of Germany to Italy, affecting around half of the 4,000 soldiers living at the air base.
The United States airforce said the base in Spangdahlem would continue to operate despite the troop withdrawal, though plans are not final yet.
Around 11,000 people live at the air base, including relatives.
United States President Donald Trump has announced the United States would withdraw about 12,000 troops stationed in Germany.
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)
Trump furious after Appeal Court overturns Boston bomber death penalty
United States President Donald Trump has flayed an appellate court ruling that overturned the death sentence given to the 2013 Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
In a tweet on Sunday, Trump said that hardly had anyone deserved the death penalty than Tsarnaev.
He said the government must push for the death penalty, adding that the country could not let the ruling stand.
“Rarely has anybody deserved the death penalty more than the Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
“The court agreed that this was one of the worst domestic terrorist attacks since the 9/11 atrocities.
“Yet the appellate court tossed out the death sentence. So many lives lost and ruined.
“The Federal Government must again seek the death penalty in a do-over of that chapter of the original trial.
“Our country cannot let the appellate decision stand. Also, it is ridiculous that this process is taking so long!,” the tweet read.
Three people died and hundreds of others were injured after Tsarnaev, 27, and his older brother, Tamerlan, detonated homemade bombs along the marathon’s route on April 15, 2013.
Tsarnaev was handed the death penalty in 2015 but he appealed the ruling in 2019 on the ground that the juniors were biased.
In its ruling on July 31, the First United States Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with him, and ordered a retrial of the case.
It said the trial judge should have excluded jurors, who had already concluded that Tsarnaev was guilty.
Prosecutors are now left with two options: to comply with the appellate court ruling or challenge it at the Supreme Court.
Edited By: Silas Nwoha (NAN)
Three dead in attack on Afghan jail, scores of prisoners flee
An attack, claimed by Islamic State on a jail compound in the Afghan city of Jalalabad, killed at least three persons and injured dozens.
The attack triggers heavy fighting, in which scores of prisoners escaped, an official said.
Sohrab Qaderi, a provincial council member, said a huge car bomb explosion was followed by at least two smaller blasts, outside the government-run prison, and that Police then fought attackers who had taken up positions nearby.
Islamic State’s Amaq news agency quoted a military source as saying its fighters had carried out Sunday’s attack but gave no further details.
There was no independent confirmation that the militant group was responsible.
“At least three people were dead and 25 injured in the ongoing clashes,’’ Qaderi said.
“More than 50 prisoner escaped and the death toll could rise, he added.
The assault happened on the third and final day of a ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, when hundreds of Taliban prisoners were released in an attempt to make a final push for intra-Afghan peace talks.
The Taliban was not responsible for the attack, a spokesman for the Islamist group said.
President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban have both indicated that long-delayed negotiations could begin immediately after the Eid al-Adha festival, which took place in Kabul on Thursday.
The Taliban says it has freed all 1,000 Afghan prisoners it had pledged to release in a deal with the United States.
Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde (NAN)
Australian gov’t imposes night curfew in Melbourne as COVID-19 cases rise
A night curfew has been announced in Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, mostly due to community transmission, despite strong restrictions.
Victoria, the state of which Melbourne is the capital, has been in COVID-19 turmoil since it was hit with a second wave in June, with Thursday seeing a record 723 new cases.
Seven people died from coronavirus overnight, taking the state toll to 123 and the national toll to 208, as Victoria recorded 671 new cases of the disease, state’s Premier Daniel Andrews said on Sunday.
He also announced a “state of disaster,” giving police and other authorities additional power, as well as a slew of new restrictions, including suspending the acts of state parliament.
“There will be a curfew across metropolitan Melbourne from 8:00 pm (1000 GMT) this evening,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
He said that it would run from 8:00 pm each and every day.
“And the only reason to be out of your home between the hours of 8:00 pm and 5:00 (am) is to get care, to give care, or to go to and from work or be at work.”
The On-the-spot fine for breaking curfew is 1,652 dollars (1,179 United States dollars), or up to 10,000 dollars if the case is taken to court, Andrews said.
Melbournites will only be allowed to shop once a day – one per household – and may get not more than one hour of exercise daily within 5 kilometres of their homes.
Recreational activities are not allowed anymore.
“These are big steps but they are necessary.
“We have got to limit the amount of movement and limit the amount of transmission of this virus,” Andrews said.
He said there were 760 “mystery cases” of community transmission – for which the source of virus infection could not be traced.
He described the cases to be at an “unacceptably high level” and “our biggest challenge.”
“This is a public health bush fire crisis, but you can’t smell the smoke and you can’t see the flames,” Andrews said.
Other restrictions include group size being limited to a maximum of two, whether they live with each other or not.
All weddings are cancelled in Melbourne. Face masks are already compulsory and schools and colleges are also moving online for remote learning from Wednesday onwards.
The restrictions, as well as curfews, are to remain in place until Sept. 13.
“If we don’t make these changes, we’re not going to get through this,” Andrews said, adding: “We need to do more. That is what these decisions are about.”
While the rest of the country is doing quite well in containing the virus, Victoria has currently 6,322 active cases, with 385 people in hospitals.
Some 650 health workers have also contracted the virus.
Victoria’s latest outbreak is said to have been due to security lapses in hotel quarantine for people returning to Melbourne from overseas, while Victoria’s borders with other states have been shut.
Melbourne is also responsible for new cases increasing in recent days in Sydney, Australia’s most populous city.
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)