Officials probed in diamond case

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Officials probed in diamond case

On Dec. 17, 2010, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a statement hailing a breakthrough business deal between Korea and Cameroon. A Korean company, CNK International, had landed a contract to develop 236 square kilometers (91 square miles) of diamond mines in the African nation. The ministry said the deal was an exemplary example of cooperation between the government and the private sector in getting business opportunities abroad.

But now it appears the diplomats themselves found ways of making money from the deal - in some cases hundreds of millions of won.

The Board of Audit and Inspection said yesterday that it would launch an investigation into suspicions that serving and retired diplomats and other high ranking government officials made money by buying CNK International shares before the ministry’s statement was released. The company’s stock skyrocketed after the announcement.

“An interim investigation will be conducted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Prime Minister’s Office between Oct. 20 and Oct. 26,” the BAI said in a statement. “We also plan to conduct field investigations at an early date once the interim investigation is finished.”

In fact, it’s rare for the Foreign Ministry to issue details about a specific business deal like the Cameroon contract, although the ministry was under growing pressure to show progress in “resource diplomacy,” or securing natural resources Korea lacks.

And CNK International was an obscure company - until the ministry announcement. Within a month of the statement, its share price more than tripled. It closed at 11,700 won per share yesterday, up from 3,400 last December.

It turned out that CNK International had a heavy hitter on its payroll: Cho Jung-pyo, former secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, a minister-level position, and a career diplomat. After retiring from the foreign service, Cho was hired as an advisor to the company in April 2009. He was given options to buy 260,000 shares of the company and he exercised that option on Dec. 8, 2010 - nine days before the foreign ministry announcement.

Cho later sold his shares and reportedly earned more than 1 billion won ($883,392) in profit.

Kim Eun-seok, the Foreign Ministry’s energy resource ambassador, who was in charge of drafting the statement about CNK and Cameroon, also came under suspicion. He had worked under Cho at the Prime Minister’s Office and is suspected of having issued the press release to benefit Cho.

Park Young-joon, a former second vice Knowledge Economy Minister, is also suspected of having encouraged government officials to buy shares in the company before the company’s deal was made. He is suspected of helping the company win the deal.

The company says on its Web site that it won the deal thanks to its own efforts over the past six years and that it has nothing to do with the alleged stock manipulation.

According to a Foreign Ministry official, the company is proceeding with the contract in Cameroon.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [머니투데이]

감사원, C&K 주가조작 관련 예비조사 착수

[외교통상부·국무총리실 공무원 불법 주식 거래 여부 집중 파악]

감사원이 20일부터 정부 고위 관료들의 주가 조작 의혹에 휩싸인 C&K인터내셔널에 대한 예비조사에 착수한다고 19일 공식 발표했다.

감사원이 C&K에 대한 예비조사에 나선 것은 최근 박영준 전 지식경제부 2차관과 외교부 고위 관료들이 C&K 주가 조작에 개입했다는 의혹이 제기되고 국회에서 이에 대한 감사를 요구한데 따른 것이다.

외교관 출신 조중표 전 국무총리실장이 C&K 고문으로 재직했고, 최근 일부 외교부 직원들이 주가 폭등 직전 주가를 사들였다는 소문도 돌고 있어 의혹은 꾸준히 확대돼왔다.

외교통상부는 지난해 12월17일 C&K의 카메룬 다이아몬드 개발권 획득 사실에 대한 보도자료를 냈다. 외교부가 특정 업체의 자원 개발권 획득에 대한 보도자료를 낸 것은 이례적이다.

보도자료는 C&K가 카메룬에서 추정 매장량 4억2000만 캐럿에 달하는 다이아몬드 개발권을 획득했다는 내용을 담고 있었다. 이후 주당 3400원대였던 이 회사의 주가는 2주 만에 1만8000원대로 뛰어올랐다.

감사원은 이에 따라 C&K 카메룬 다이아몬드 개발권 획득과 관련된 외교통상부의 두 차례에 걸친 보도자료 작성·배포 경위 및 적정요부, 보도자료 내용의 사실 여부 등을 중점 점검한다.

또 외교통상부와 국무총리실 등 관련 공무원이 내부 정보를 이용해 불법 주식 거래에 나섰는지 여부는 물론 관련 업무 처리가 적정했는지 여부 등에 대해서도 조사할 예정이다.

감사원은 오는 26일까지 5일간 외교통상부·국무총리실 등을 대상으로 예비조사를 실시한 후 빠른 시일 내 본격적인 실지 감사에 나선다는 계획이다.

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