Yeosu employee accused of stealing $6.9 million

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Yeosu employee accused of stealing $6.9 million

In the wake of its successful, high-profile hosting of the World Expo 2012, Yeosu has been shaken by charges that a low-ranking city official and his wife embezzled more than 7.6 billion won ($6.9 million) over three years.

The Suncheon Branch of the Gwangju District Prosecutors’ Office apprehended the wife of the official surnamed Kim on Saturday after her husband was arrested Oct. 15 and charged with embezzlement.

Investigators said the 48-year-old Kim has worked in the accounting bureau of the Yeosu office in charge of expenditure since 2009. They say he opened bank accounts under the names of public workers who were retired or transferred to other offices and pocketed about 4 billion won of their wages.

Kim, who was in charge of reporting earned income to taxation authorities, also allegedly understated that amount and kept for himself about 600 million won in taxes paid by his colleagues. It was Kim’s under-reporting of earned income that first drew the attention of the Board of Audit and Inspection.

After authorities found money embedded in bank accounts implicating the suspects and were about to arrest Kim, police say, the couple attempted suicide by asphyxiation on Oct. 8 by putting burning charcoal briquettes in their vehicle, closing all the windows and taking sleeping pills.

Amid growing public criticism over loopholes in audit systems and officials’ failure to detect the alleged crime, which would be the biggest embezzlement ever by a single public official, Yeosu Mayor Kim Chung-seog publicly apologized Oct. 22, saying he felt “terribly sorry for what has happened. I will make sure those who let this happen will be held accountable and meet with stern punishment.”

Kim’s 40-year-old wife reportedly already spent about 6 billion won of the 7.6 billion won found so far on luxury cars and running a private loan business. During the investigation, police said, the two claimed they had used all of the money to make loans.

It has been reported that the authorities are not ruling out the possibility that Kim had embezzled nearly 10 billion won, given his systematic and elaborate tactics over the years. The fact that he worked in the city accounting office from 2002 to 2006 before returning to the department in 2009 suggests his criminal activities might have dated to his earlier period of employment, according to police.

The prosecutors are trying to find more cases in which the embezzled tax payers’ money had been spent by the couple and plan to investigate the couple’s relatives. Prosecutors are scheduled to discuss the progress of their investigation at a news conference today.

By Kang Jin-kyu [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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