A prime place to abscond with embezzled cash

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A prime place to abscond with embezzled cash

HWASEONG, Gyeonggi - It was a peaceful afternoon at Gungpyeong Port in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, last Thursday.

Several fishermen were busy tending to their nets near the dock and some 20 tourists strolled along the seawall. On the other side of the port, some 30 middle-aged men were fishing, painting a tranquil picture.

It hard to imagine that this was the same place where Kim Chan-kyong, chairman of Mirae Savings Bank, tried to flee to China to avoid prosecutors.

Kim was nabbed by the Korea Coast Guard less than two weeks ago and was arrested for his alleged involvement in financial irregularities as the head of one of four recently suspended savings banks.

On May 6, the Financial Services Commission halted operations of four savings banks - Solomon, Mirae, Hanju and Korea - as they are suspected of giving out illegal loans and their top shareholders and management, including Kim, are suspected of embezzlement and bribery.

Upon close examination of the inconspicuous port during a recent visit, it seemed like it could have sufficed for Kim’s clandestine getaway.

There were 11 spots where a boat could easily dock, but there wasn’t a single streetlamp, making it difficult for police to see anyone trying to leave the country if they were disguised as a fisherman.

Unlike ports at Incheon or Taean, Gungpyeong Port hasn’t been industrialized and is rather deserted.

“It would have been difficult to catch Kim if we weren’t tipped off about his activity,” said an official from the Korea Coast Guard.

In December, the maritime police were informed of Kim’s alleged attempt and they were able to catch him after staking out the area by disguising themselves as fishermen.

“Though the distance from the port to international waters is 100 meters (328 feet), anyone can easily find a Chinese boat just 25 meters away from here,” said a fisherman surnamed Jeong.

According to the Korea Coast Guard, Kim had planned to take to the sea on a small fishing boat before transferring to a cargo ship heading to China.

There have been previous cases when random officials from China were caught trying to sneak into Korea, but this is the first time matters were the other way around.

Kim was the first to be caught by Korean police attempting to leave for China, but the police note that there may have been others.

“The fact that Kim tried to sneak into China after crossing the Yellow Sea shows that doing so was his last resort to avoid investigations,” said an official from the Korea Coast Guard.

According to industry sources, there are several brokers based on the country’s west coast that are linked to Korean and Chinese gangs.

A fisherman surnamed Kim said that “there are rumors that a former gang member has been aiding illegal immigration by forging passports.”

Industry sources also note that it is less risky and less expensive to flee to China than Japan - it costs 10 million ($8,700) to 15 million won to reach the latter.

By Lee Jeong-bong[angie@joongang.co.kr]

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