Photo prize? Smile and say ‘graft’

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Photo prize? Smile and say ‘graft’

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency on Thursday sought a warrant to detain the secretary general of the Photo Artist Society of Korea for allegedly taking 400 million won ($353,000) in bribes from amateur photographers looking to win prizes in his organization’s photo contests.

The 42 photographers, as well as contest judges and a board member, are being questioned for related charges.

Police said that the 55-year-old secretary, surnamed Kim, met a female amateur photographer surnamed Jin, 63, in a coffee shop in Hyehwa-dong, central Seoul, in April 2008. Jin allegedly offered him a paper bag that held 30 million won in cash, and Kim promised her that she would win the grand prize in the upcoming Korea Grand Photo Exhibition organized by the photo society.

A few days after Jin submitted her work, Kim allegedly showed 30 small sample pictures to 14 contest judges at a motel in northern Seoul. Among the photos were Jin’s.

“Remember these pictures well and include them in the prize nominees,” Kim reportedly said. “In case you don’t clearly recall what the pictures looked like, our female staff will stand next to the to-be-awarded photos when judges walk around to rate the pictures.”

Jin won the contest’s grand prize, which carried with it a purse of 6 million won - one-fifth the amount of the bribe she reportedly paid.

In addition to fixing contests, police said Kim offered photos to some members of the society who wanted to enter competitions but didn’t have quality pictures to submit. Kim allegedly received millions of won in return for the service, and promised the members they’d win prizes for the plagiarized photos at the Korea Grand Photo Exhibition and Seoul Grand Photo Exhibition.

In Korea, amateur photographers become professionals by winning a certain number of contests within a five-year span, “and many amateur photographers cling to awards,” a police officer said. “Kim took advantage of this trend in the field.”

Kim is also accused of helping a society board member surnamed Yoon win his post in return for 20 million won.

Police said Kim is also facing embezzlement charges for allegedly pocketing 49 million won from the photographer society’s fund.

By Kim Mi-ju, Jeong Seon-eon []

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