Just as it dared to hope that the influence-buying affair in Washington was over, the South Korean government has been rocked by a home-grown scandal involving some of its highest officials.
At least 190 high-echelon officials are under investigation for having bought valuable apartments at very low prices from one of the country's biggest corporations, the Hyundai group.
Some of them, it was revealed this week, promptly sold the apartments at quick profits. Others have moved into the comfortable new homes, almost impossible to find elsewhere on Seoul's housing market.
The government is investigating to determine whether the apartments were offered by Hyundai as bribes or whether some officials may have solicited them with offers of favorable bureaucratic treatment.
The scandal, which broke in the newspapers early this week, has caused an uproar. Gleefully rubbing it in, the opposition New Democratic Party has compared it to the Tongsun Park affair.
An embarrased President Park Chung Hee, who frequently styles himself as a guardian against corruption, has sternly admonished everyone involved and said that those who sold their apartments for profit will be punished. Others will merely be warned.
The 190 government officials involved reportedly include six members of the National Assembly and high-ranking members of the Economic Planning Board, Commerce Industry Ministry, Finance Ministry Construction Ministry.
In addition, 34 important figures in the press and television are also said to have been given the favored treatment.
All housing is at a premium in Seoul, which has grown rapidly in population in recent years and now stands a 7.5 million people. The government has built thousands of new units every year, distributing most of them through a lottery system to assure fairness.
Those under scrutiny now were built under a special exception by a subsidiary of the giant Hyundai group, the Korea Urban Development Co. The apartments were supposed to be used for families of Hyundai employes and executives.
But at least 190 of them, according to news reports, were sold at bargain rates to the government officials. Many of them were sold quicly at profits ranging up to $25,000.
Those speculators, Park said, will be disciplined and others would be warned, but he also concluded that there is no law by which any of them could be legally punished.
That admission drew an angry challenge from Lee Chul Seung, leader of the opposition party. "It is unreasonable and ridiculous that the government steps aside from the controversial scandal on the grounds that there is no regulation under which it can punish the officials," he said. He also called on Park's Democratic-Republican Party to call a legislative committee meeting to investigate the scandal, saying that the Justice Ministry could not be trusted to probe official misconduct.
The scandal broke just as Park was being reelected to a new six-year term but it had no effect on that process.
The Hyundai group is one of the giant conglomerates that sprang up over the past 15 years as the South Korean economy boomed. It makes ships, automobiles and heavy equipment and has construction contracts in many countries around the world.
Two officials of the Hyundai Urban Development subsidiary have resigned to take responsibility in the affair. The firm has surrendered its business license to the government.
Ten of the company officials are being questioned to determine whether they may have been pressured by government officials to make the apartments available.