Probe widens on room salon bribes

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Probe widens on room salon bribes

Multiple police officers are being accused of receiving bribes from room salon owners in Gangnam, southern Seoul.

The Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office announced on Tuesday that 40-year-old room salon (hostess bar) owner Lee Gyeong-baek, or the so-called room salon king, testified that officer Han of Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency has received bribes every month from 30 to 40 room salon owners over the previous five years.

Lee said that Han works with officer Lee, who has been also accused for receiving 5 billion won ($4.42 million) in bribes from 100 room salon owners in Gangnam.

Lee said that these two officers even invested a large sum of extorted money in room salons and illegal massage places that offer prostitution. Both officers Han and Lee were arrested last week and are currently under investigation.

“Lee said that Han has received about 2 to 10 million won from room salon owners monthly since 2007,” a spokesman for the prosecution told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The prosecutors said about 30 room salons in Samseong-dong, Seocho-dong, and Sinsa-dong and a dozen illegal massage places around Seoul National University of Education Station on subway line No. 2. are part of the investigation.

Officer Lee has invested in four massage places in Gangnam owned by Lee Gyeong-baek and Han has invested in a room salon and three to four massage places with the extorted money in order to generate extra money, according to the room salon king. Prosecutors will investigate whether the two officers have earned large dividends from the investments.

Prosecutors said the two officers developed corrupt relationships with room salon owners and massage places when they started working in the area.

Officers Lee and Han have worked at the Gangnam and Seocho Police Precincts respectively for a number of years, but the two were transferred to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in 2006 to track down illegal prostitution and teenage sex crimes.

During Tuesday’s questioning, Lee testified to prosecutors how corrupt relationships develop between police officers and room salon owners.

“Officer Lee one day called me on the phone and arranged a meeting, told me that he had evidence that could shut my places down,” Lee said during the query.

He added that he met the officers in their vehicles and they told him, “I heard you’re a smart man and I expect you do the same thing like you do to the other officers.”

He said that officer Lee demanded 10 million won in the first meeting and he gave it to Lee the next day.

Lee said that the officers demanded money frequently when they played golf together or visited spas, mentioning specific names of room salons they had dirt on.

“They would frequently say things to scare us, like ‘we completely busted a room salon last week,’?” Lee said.

By Park Jin-seok [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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