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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 7)

National 07:12 July 07, 2021

Shady connections
It is time to shed light on fraud case

It is shocking to hear that a swindler allegedly offered gifts to a spy agency chief, a former independent counsel, a senior prosecutor and a ranking police officer. The allegation shows how far our country still has to go before eliminating corruption and creating a clean and transparent society.

The suspect, 43, identified by the surname Kim, is standing trial on charges of swindling seven people out of 11.6 billion won ($10.2 million). Kim, an ex-convict, began his fraud scheme in June 2018 after he was released from prison on a presidential pardon in December 2017.

Posing as a fishery trader, he cheated the victims by falsely promising that they could get huge returns if they invested in his nonexistent frozen squid business. He actually used the money "raised" to operate a car rental business and a hostess bar in his hometown of Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province.

One of the victims in this scheme was the elder brother of Kim Moo-sung, a former six-term lawmaker of the Saenuri Party, one of predecessors of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP). The brother allegedly invested 8.6 billion won in the fraudulent business; and still cannot get his money back.

More seriously, the fraud suspect was found to have made shady personal connections with politicians, lawmakers, prosecutors, police officers, journalists and other influential figures. Such connections seem to have helped Kim carry out his scheme. He posed as a vice chairman of a news outlet as well as a wealthy businessman who inherited more than 100 billion won from his parents.

At the center of the connections is National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Park Ji-won, a veteran politician and former four-term lawmaker. According to police, Kim provided frozen Dokdo shrimp to Park as a gift. Park admitted that he received the gift, adding that he once met Kim along with other people. However, he tried to downplay the seriousness of his acceptance, saying the gift was an inexpensive one.

Kim allegedly offered former special prosecutor Park Young-soo, who investigated the corruption scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye, a Porsche as a rental car. However, Park said he returned the car after two days driving it, adding that he later paid 2.5 million won in rental fees through a lawyer.

Kim provided a wristwatch and other gifts estimated at over 10 million won to a senior prosecutor, surnamed Lee, at the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors' Office. Lee was demoted recently because of his acceptance of the gift. Kim also gave high-priced fisheries gift sets to a police station chief in Pohang, who was recently dismissed for bribery. He also presented a golf club to Lee Dong-hoon, a former editorial writer of the Chosun Ilbo, a mass-circulation Korean newspaper. Lee served briefly as a spokesman for former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, who recently declared his bid to run for president.

It is shameful that such "leading" figures in our society had connections to the swindler and received gifts from him. It could be all the more so if Kim used such figures in his fraud schemes. Police should conduct a more thorough investigation to get to the bottom of the case. If the gifts are proven to be bribes, the recipients should face harsh punishment regardless of who they are.


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