Bribe probe on MB’s close associate

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Bribe probe on MB’s close associate

In an expanding graft scandal involving alleged bribes to top public servants by the owner of a lucrative cafeteria business, prosecutors are zeroing in on Choi Young, CEO of Kangwon Land casino resort and close friend of President Lee Myung-bak.

The Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office has been looking into influence-peddling and graft allegations involving a 65-year-old businessman surnamed Yu, who runs canteens at construction sites. Choi is suspected of taking bribes from Yu in 2008, prosecution sources said.

At the time, Choi was president of SH Corporation, the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s public housing and development company.

The sources said that the prosecution has obtained testimony from Yu that Choi received the money in 2008 in return for using his influence in bids to operate cafeterias at SH Corporation construction sites.

Choi is known to have worked closely with President Lee when he was Seoul mayor. He served in key posts at the Seoul city government and was named CEO of SH Corporation in February 2007. After two years at the city’s construction arm, Choi was named head of Kangwon Land, the only casino in the country open to Koreans. The government owns a 51-percent stake in the resort and the government appoints its CEO.

According to prosecution sources, Choi has bragged about his ties with Lee. Last January, he published a book entitled “1,500 Days With MB,” using the president’s initials.

The prosecutors plan to summon Choi to question him about the accusation. No travel ban was imposed.

Two former senior officials have already been banned from leaving the country on suspicions of receiving bribes from Yu: former National Police Agency Commissioner Kang Hee-rak and former Korea Coast Guard Commissioner Lee Gil-beom.

The prosecution also said Yu had allegedly given money to a younger brother of a former minister who served during the Roh Moo-hyun administration and it is looking into the possibility that the transaction was linked to influence-peddling.

The brother is a construction company owner, the prosecution said, and 150 million won ($133,000) was provided from 2005 to 2007.

“It is possible that the transaction was legitimate, as Yu argued, but the amount is large enough for us to leave all possibilities open during the probe,” said a prosecution source.

By Shim Sae-rom, Ser Myo-ja []
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