Hostess bars drawn into police jurisdiction dispute

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Hostess bars drawn into police jurisdiction dispute

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Prosecutors arrested another king of the hostess bar industry who is suspected of showering police in Gangnam, southern Seoul with hundreds of millions of won in bribes.

But police say the arrest is just the latest battle in a long-running war over criminal investigation powers being split between prosecutors and the police.

Since March, prosecutors have been investigating police officers’ alleged corruption after arresting hostess bar owner Lee Gyeong-baek, the so-called “room salon king,” and discovering that about 50 police officers in Nonhyeon police stations allegedly received billions of won in bribes, including cash payments and golf lessons.

Last Thursday, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office raided a hostess bar complex in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul that is allegedly owned by a 52-year old man identified by his surname, Kim. The prosecution said Kim was a bigger operator than Lee and it suspects he had a back-scratching relationship with police officers and civil servants.

“The prosecution is digging up police corruption in order to seize the initiative over the jurisdiction conflict,” police officers said Monday about the raid. For months, prosecutors and police have been battling over their respective powers to start and end criminal investigations.

Kim’s hostess bar complex, also known as a room salon, is allegedly the single largest in Seoul with 180 service rooms and about 400 hostesses. The prosecutors have secured the establishment’s accounts and credit card receipts as evidence.

“The investigation has nothing relevant with the jurisdiction conflict,” a spokesman for the prosecution told the JoongAng Ilbo. “While we were querying police officers arrested for taking bribes from Lee Gyeong-baek, we secured testimony that Kim is also related to the bribery. We will prove that the investigation is intended only to discover alleged corruption.”

“Kim is considered the real ‘room salon king’ in Gangnam,” an investigator from the prosecutors’ office told the JoongAng Ilbo. “He was connected with gangs controlling some bars in Gangnam in the past, but recently has been concentrating on expanding his hostess bar business.”

The prosecutors said Kim got into the business in the mid-1980s in Gangnam and built a 13-story building in Nonhyeon-dong in 2010. Kim set up hostess bars on levels B1 to B3 and allegedly used hotel rooms for prostitution.

“Kim’s bar became the very best as he scouted many capable waiters and managers who have regular customers,” a source in the bar business told the JoongAng Ilbo. The prosecution said that the bar is also very popular with foreigners, and it found records of Visa and MasterCard credit cards issued overseas.

By Kim Ki-hwan [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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