On the 4th of March of this year, the Seoul city government approved the city development plan for Heonin Village, an area located in Seocho-gu, Naegok-dong. This marks a historical day for Heonin Village, whose development has been on hold for the last 10 years. However, while the news may be welcome to some, the people of Heonin Village do not share in this sentiment.
Leadership formed through the circumvention of law
The legal entity that is responsible for the city development is a Cooperative formed solely of the landowners of the area. Once the Cooperative has been formed, the landowners come together to plan the project and obtain approval from the government.
However, Mr. A, one of the villagers, lamented over the formation of the current leadership of the City Development Cooperative of Heonin Village. Mr. A explained that an unnamed private developer has circumvented a number of laws in order to form the leadership and has worked to exclude the townspeople from any of the planning and development process.
According to the above enclosed documents, over 100% of the leadership owns less than 0.03 m2 of a single road within the entire development area. Despite repeated petitions from the townspeople of Heonin Village regarding the leadership of the City Development Cooperative, these concerns have been continuously ignored by the Seocho-gu and Seoul governments.
The Heonin Village Nightmare
The tragic story of Heonin Village began when the aforementioned private developer received a loan amounting to 375 million US dollars from various banks, including Woori Bank. Following receipt of this loan, the private developer began purchasing areas of the town from 168 villagers in 2006. In order to gain voting power in the Cooperative, the developer borrowed the names of people who already sold their land, as well as the names of company employees. Despite alleged illegal actions by this private developer, Oh Se-Hoon, the then mayor of Seoul, and Park Sung-Joong, the then mayor of Seocho-gu, approved the formation of the Cooperative.
Since then, further developments in the project have been halted for over 10 years. This is largely due to internal issues including legal suits between the private developer and the name lenders.
In January of 2020, the private developer began to transfer parts of its above-mentioned ‘road’ to over 100 people, once again borrowing names in order to do so. In fact, it has been further alleged that the people who initially lent their names to the cause have received up to 200,000 US dollars from the private developer. The revised member list of the Cooperative that the private developer submitted to the government included not only those individuals mentioned above, but also a number of deceased persons. This Cooperative was then approved by Cho Eun-Hee, the current mayor of Seocho-gu.
Moreover, concerns have been raised not only about the cooperative itself but the rate at which the government has approved the development plan. It has been alleged that the government has even neglected an evaluation of the environmental consequences of this project in order to hasten the development process.
The Saga Continues
Mr. B, another representative from Heonin Village, highlighted the fact that Park Sung-Joong, the current representative of the People Power Party and the former mayor of Seocho-gu in 2006, gave a congratulatory speech when the 2020 Cooperative was formed. Mr. B mentioned that it seemed strange how Park Sung-Joong never came to visit the village during his term as a mayor of Seocho-gu, yet he visited the village to celebrate the formation of the 2020 Cooperative, which involved none of the townspeople. Mr. B’s final comment highlights the gravity of the situation. He describes how the people of Heonin Village have endured threats, violence, murder attempts, among a number of other serious coercions from the private developer over the last 15 years. Mr. B emphasized, however, that they will never yield to injustice and will continue fighting.
It remains to be seen whether the people of Heonin Village will ever receive justice or compensation for their suffering. To be continued…
Jo Hee-kyung, Reporter for EPN News