C& chairman rebuffed by MB’s brother: sources

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C& chairman rebuffed by MB’s brother: sources

Prosecutors are looking into allegations that Lim Byung-seok, embattled chairman of C& Group, contacted the elder brother of President Lee Myung-bak and other high-profile ruling party politicians to buy their influence and get his company out of trouble.

According to prosecutors, Lim chose to deal with Democratic Party politicians before 2007, but increasingly tried to get close to Grand National Party figures after Lee won the presidential election in December 2007.

Lim is currently detained and being investigated for allegedly embezzling 100 billion won ($89.9 million) of corporate money to bribe politicians and government officials.

C& Group is also suspected of lobbying Woori Bank officials to get billions of won in loans in 2008.

While Lim admitted to his attorney to contacting GNP heavyweights, he said he only met them at public gatherings, not privately, because he did not know them personally.

But according to sources quoted by the Chosun Ilbo on Monday, Lim met President Lee’s older brother, Grand National Party Representative Lee Sang-deuk, at a hotel in Yeouido, Seoul, days before the Chuseok holiday in 2008 and was rebuffed when he tried to give Lee a gift of expensive gulbi, or dried corbina.

According to one of the sources, Jang Jeon-hyung, currently a member of GNP and former spokesman for the opposition Democratic Party, Lim came to see him before the holiday and they had coffee at another hotel.

Jang received a phone call from the president’s brother because they were planning to meet.

“Lim wanted to come and we went to see Lee together,” Jang said.

A close aide to the president’s brother was quoted by Chosun Ilbo as saying Lim tried to offer Lee a box of gulbi, which enraged him.

“Jang offered Lim’s business card to Lee, but Lee sensed that Lim had brought something for him,” the source said. “Lee scolded him and stormed out of the hotel in anger.”

Along with galbi, or beef short-ribs, gulbi is a favorite holiday gift during Chuseok. Good quality gulbi can cost 2 million won per box.

The GNP’s Jang said he also left the hotel, but when he returned about two hours later, the gulbi box was still there.

“There were high-quality gulbi inside,” Jang said, “and I took them because it was too good to leave.”

According to a former official at C& Group, Lim, a native of Yeonggwang, South Jeolla, offered boxes of gulbi to politicians and government officials as holiday gifts. Yeonggwang is famous for gulbi.

“Lim’s father runs a gulbi retailer, and he offered gulbi gifts every year,” said the ex-official who asked not to be named. “Each affiliated company of C& Group had a list of gift recipients and kept delivery records.”

As some of the C& Group’s affiliates, including C& Woobang, are based in Jeolla and Gyeongsang, prosecutors are looking into whether Lee tried to lobby other lawmakers in the regions for favors.

North and South Jeolla are the home turf of the main opposition Democratic Party, while North and South Gyeongsang heavily supports the ruling GNP.

Lim told his attorney that he contacted several GNP officials, including Yim Tae-hee, the Blue House chief of staff, but that he didn’t have personal connections and met them in public places.

A close aide to Yim told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday that Yim met Lim when the chief of staff was head of the GNP’s policy-making committee. Yim headed the committee from May 2008 to May 2009.

By Kim Mi-ju, Lee Chul-jae [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]
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