Yeosu’s 2012 Expo turns into a festival of graft

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Yeosu’s 2012 Expo turns into a festival of graft

The city of Yeosu will be the host of the 2012 Expo, which should be a point of pride for the port city on the southern coast.

Instead, the expo is turning into a hall of shame as a number of city and provincial officials have been charged with receiving bribes for expo contracts, while Mayor Oh Hyun-sup, 59, has been missing for 10 days, presumably trying to avoid arrest.

“It is embarrassing to call myself a Yeosu citizen,” said a middle-aged man walking past Yeosu city hall yesterday, who said he was too ashamed to give his name. “We are the ones to blame for handing the responsibility to take care of 300,000 people to those people.” He said he wants to “cut off the finger that voted for that mayor four years ago.”

Oh was scheduled to attend a meeting with police investigators at 8:30 a.m. last Monday, but never showed up. A Yeosu city employee later explained that the mayor had taken a leave of absence until June 23, which he has yet to return from.

The mayor’s disappearance came after he was charged with being involved in a bribery case. Allegedly, a former head of city development in Yeosu surnamed Kim received 300 million won ($246,510) in bribes last year from a man surnamed Nam, 51, who is head of an architectural lighting design company called Nightopia. The money was given to win contracts for an illuminated landscape project in Yeosu for the expo.

According to authorities, Kim spent 165 million won for personal use and gave 100 million won to a man surnamed Ju, 67, who is a close associate of the mayor. Ju is wanted by police for doling out cash to 15 city council members in December last year, after he received money from Kim. Ju fled to China this April and Yeosu police have asked Interpol to help arrest him.

Kim voluntarily appeared before authorities on June 15 and was arrested last Monday, two months after she resigned from her post and disappeared. Police said they will question council members after getting a list of names from a computer hard drive and documents seized from Ju’s house.

Those close to Mayor Oh are suggesting he may have “fled the country or committed suicide,” although the police have ordered a ban on his leaving the country. Oh ran in the June 2 elections as a Democratic Party candidate, but failed to secure a second term. His successor, Mayor-elect Kim Choong-seok, said yesterday, “This is bringing immense pressure.”

By Lee Hai-suk, Christine Kim []
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