Reactor operator accused of taking suppliers’ bribes

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Reactor operator accused of taking suppliers’ bribes

ULSAN - In July 2009 at the executive auditor’s office of Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation (KHNP), the sole operator of the country’s 21 nuclear reactors, a CEO from a corporation that produces nuclear reactor components sat with a high-ranking KHNP official. When the assistants stepped out of the meeting, the CEO pulled out a white envelope. “Please take good care of our supply contract,” he said, while handing it over.

The envelope contained 30 million won ($26,200), according to prosecutors, and was just one of many bribes received from suppliers. In total, prosecutors said that the KHNP official, surnamed Kim, received 70 million won from December 2008 to February 2010. As part of the scheme, producers supplied billions of won worth of materials to the KHNP without facing competition.

In April, critical components in the Gori nuclear plants were found to have been knockoffs made locally and bought by a supply manager at the plant who allegedly received kickbacks. So in May, the Ulsan Supreme Prosecutors’ Office launched an investigation of KHNP and other officials, who acted as brokers to connect suppliers with the power plant operator.

As part of their investigation, 22 KHNP officials have been indicted for receiving a total of 2.2 billion won in bribes, prosecutors announced yesterday. Nine corporation owners have also been indicted with detention.

Many of the shady transactions took place during golf meetings abroad, prosecutors found. Suppliers would set up meetings with officials from KHNP’s contracting divisions and take them out for golf games in China or elsewhere. Money would then be directly transferred by brokers while the games were ongoing. Afterward, bribed officials would send some of the money to their superiors at KHNP.

In addition to products actually used in the reactors, prosecutors also said bribed officials from the plant operator would purchase low-quality goods that were not suitable for use by KHNP. Since the purchased products must perform certain crucial functions in the reactors, such as controlling temperature, quality standards are quite high.

A 52-year-old surnamed Park was singled out by the prosecution for allegedly purchasing inferior goods in return for 452 million won in bribes from 2008 to 2011.

And investigators don’t expect to stop their work anytime soon.

“We also found 16 additional officials who received small sums of money that were then reported to the KHNP,” said Koo Bon-jin of the special investigation team of the Ulsan Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. “We will expand the investigation as there is a high possibility that more KHNP officials are involved in this corruption scandal.”

By Kim Yoon-ho [sakwon80@jooongang.co.kr]

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