SEOUL, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) -- A soon-to-be-launched special investigation into corruption suspicions over President Lee Myung-bak's retirement home project is expected to come to an end in late November, just a few weeks before the Dec. 19 election to pick his successor.
The sensitive timing raises questions about how the result of the probe will affect the vote, especially whether it will erode the chances of Rep. Park Geun-hye, the standard bearer of Lee's ruling Saenuri Party.
Many analysts say the investigation is unlikely to have much impact on Park because she and her party have kept a long distance from the unpopular president, as seen in April's general elections that Park's party unexpectedly won despite widespread voter discontent with Lee.
"As we saw in the parliamentary elections, I don't think this will have any direct effect on the presidential election," said Yu Chang-seon, a political analyst and commentator. "This is seen as a case related only to President Lee and the presidential office."
Still, some experts say results pointing to any misdeed on the part of Lee, his son or presidential officials cannot but affect Park as she represents the ruling party, regardless of whether she is close to Lee or not.
"Many people think of Park as separate from President Lee, but there are others who don't," said Shin Yul, a political science professor at Seoul's Myongji University. "Park cannot help but be affected by this to some degree."
When Lee's approval ratings rose after he visited the easternmost islets of Dokdo last month, Park's ratings rose too, the professor said, citing it as an example that their ratings affect each other even by a small degree.
The scandal centers around a deal last year to buy a plot of land in Naegok-dong on the southern edge of Seoul for a retirement home for Lee and auxiliary facilities for security personnel there. The land was bought jointly by Lee's 34-year-old son, Si-hyung, and the presidential security service.
The cost was not shared evenly, however, with the security service paying too high a price for the site for the security facilities in what the opposition claimed was a scheme to allow the son to profit from buying the site at a below-market price.
Lee and presidential officials have disavowed any wrongdoing in the now-defunct project to build a house on the southern edge of Seoul for Lee to move into after leaving office in February, except that the lot was purchased under the name of his son due to security reasons.
Still, Lee issued an apology over the overall trouble, scrapped the project and decided to move into his existing private house in Nonhyun-dong in southern Seoul after leaving office in February. By law, Lee cannot seek a second term.
"Would the president, who has given up all of his assets to charity, have had the intention to gain a profit of just 100 million (US$89,349) or 200 million won through the residence site," senior presidential press secretary Choe Guem-nak told reporters Friday.
The ruling and opposition parties sought a special investigation after prosecutors wrapped up their own probe in June without filing charges against anyone involved, saying all suspicions in the case had been resolved. The decision sparked a wave of public criticism.
Officials have faulted the special investigation bill for unfairly empowering the main opposition Democratic United Party to choose candidates to lead the investigation, saying it runs counter to a Constitutional Court ruling that special prosecutors should be neutral and independent of political power.
Lee considers the bill as a "politically oriented agreement" between the rival parties but accepted it "to prevent any more consumptive arguments about this and converge national strength on addressing pressing issues for ordinary people," Choe said.
The opposition DUP is expected to soon put forward two candidates with at least 10 years of experience as a judge, prosecutor or lawyer, before Lee appoints one as a special prosecutor to lead the investigation.
Upon the appointment, the independent counsel will be given a 10-day preparation period before conducting an investigation for 30 days. The investigation can be extended once for an additional 15 days, pending approval from the president, according to the bill.