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Trickster took millions from Gwangju mayor

Impersonating a first lady, she preyed on his political need

Nov 28,2018
A woman pretending to be a former first lady swindled 450 million won (around $398,000) from Gwangju’s former mayor, prosecutors said.

The case was just one of a number of recent scams where the grifters pretended to be high-level political figures.

The Gwangju District Prosecutors’ Office announced last Friday that they are investigating how Yoon Jang-hyun, mayor of Gwangju from 2014 to 2018, fell victim to a phone scam by a 49-year-old woman who pretended to be Kwon Yang-sook, the wife of former President Roh Moo-hyun.

Yoon sent the woman, identified only by her surname Kim, a total of 450 million won in four transactions from December of last year through January of this year, prosecutors said.

Kim told then-mayor Yoon that she needed the money to support her daughter’s business. Using her familiarity with politics from working on the political campaigns of Democratic Party (DP) candidates, she tried to scam nine other politicians using the same method before finally succeeding with Yoon.

The South Jeolla Provincial Police Agency, which investigated the fraud case before handing it over to prosecutors Friday, recommended that the prosecution indict Kim on impersonation and fraud charges.

Prosecutors said that they plan to investigate why Yoon provided someone who he thought was Kwon with such a large sum of money, as the mayor was not personally acquainted with the former first lady or her close associates. Yoon only had a net worth of about 700 million won, according to a tax return he submitted in March.

There is a possibility that Yoon did so with the expectation that his help would be rewarded with political favors, such as the nomination of himself or one of his allies in the local elections that took place this June, prosecutors added.

Police confirmed that 350 of the 450 million won paid by Yoon was received through loans from two major banks. The source of the rest of the money is not yet clear, prosecutors said, but Yoon likely obtained the money from his acquaintances.

A civic group and a number of political analysts monitoring the case argue that it should be investigated as a political corruption case.

Yoon fell victim to the scam due to his lack of political connections with the pro-Roh faction of the ruling DP, which may have fueled a desperate bid to build ties with key figures in the faction like former first lady Kwon, they said.

Facing low approval ratings, Yoon chose not to run for a second term as Gwangju mayor in the June election. The race was eventually won by the DP’s Lee Yong-seop.

Scams involving the impersonation of powerful political figures are not uncommon. They often target people with a minor political or public profile who want connections with those in power.

After learning of the frequency of such scams, President Moon Jae-in exhorted the public “to regard any requests for money by those bringing up the president, his family members, or any Blue House employees as fraud” and report such cases to the police, according to Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom last Thursday.

Kim spoke about a number of major cases of impersonation fraud from last December and January. Scammers posed as such figures as Presidential Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok or Presidential Secretary for Political Affairs Han Byung-do.

The impostors requested up to 40 million won from the victims. In exchange, they claimed they would use the Blue House’s authority to help push through local projects or give political support. In one case, a fraudster with an extensive criminal record forged a Blue House identification card and took 15 million from a man after promising him a job.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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