Fate sealed for bogus maker of Korea’s great seal

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Fate sealed for bogus maker of Korea’s great seal

Min Hong-gyu, chief of the government’s great seal management team, confessed Wednesday that he had no idea how to make the great seal in the traditional way, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said.

“It was a lie that I had mastered the 600-year-old secret method of manufacturing by the traditional method,” Min said yesterday, according to police. “The fourth seal was fired in a modern kiln located in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province, using plaster and a silicon mold.”

Police summoned Min again yesterday for questioning and confirmed that the seal maker had pocketed about 1.2 kilograms of leftover gold from the seal worth about 60 million won ($50,847). Police suspect Min used the gold to make smaller versions of the seal as gifts for high-ranking officials in the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

The great seal of Korea, a phoenix-shaped stamp, is used when the president decides important state affairs. The fourth great seal project started in 2007 during the Rho Moo-hyun administration, when the former seal was found to have developed cracks on its surface.

Min, appointed head of the project, was accused of appropriating the leftover gold by his assistant. Police raided his house last Friday after a request from the Ministry of Public Administration and Security to investigate the 56-year-old for fraud and embezzlement.

“I am sorry for causing trouble for the nation,” Min said, according to police.

Investigators said another of Min’s seals offered at the Lotte Department Store in Sogong-dong, Seoul, at a price of 4 billion won ($33.8 million) was not made of platinum and diamonds as advertised, but of fake diamonds, brass and nickel.

Rumors spread that Min might have sold it to a Japanese businessman or kept it in a safe-deposit box, but the seal was found unexpectedly by police in his workplace last Friday.

According to the police, the actual price of the “diamond phoenix great seal” would be about 2 million won.

Authorities said the Min scandal will damage the credibility of the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, which appointed him the head of the seal project in 2007.

“It seems there is currently no craftsman who can make the great seal in the traditional way,” said police. “We need to investigate the Ministry of Public Administration and Security on charges of hiring Min with unverifiable skills.”

By Lee Han-gil [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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