Major NGO probed for embezzling gov’t funds

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Major NGO probed for embezzling gov’t funds

Police said they have launched an investigation against the Korea Freedom Federation, one of Korea’s largest NGOs with 1.5 million members, as officials are suspected of embezzling billions of won from the organization, including government subsidies.

The National Police Agency (NPA) said on Tuesday that the Freedom Federation received about 100 million won ($92,300) in government funding for a project called “Find a Korean hero from my hometown.”

The project was intended to raise national pride and provide financial aid to young people who were participating in social activities, in 2011, but used about 57 million won of the government subsidies to produce a promotional video clip for the organization and some of the officials even selected their own children as the so-called heroes to receive the financial aid.

The NPA added that some officials also used tens of millions of won of the organizations’ funds at expensive restaurants and karaoke bars.

The police judge that about 47 million won, or 36 percent of the 1.36 billion won, the amount of government subsidies received in 2011, was used in this manner.

The Freedom Federation is an NGO that carries out diverse activities related to social and government affairs, including national security issues.

It manages 12 museums and war memorials in the country that are commissioned by the Ministry of Unification, including the Freedom Peace Museum at Boramae Park in Dongjak District, southwestern Seoul, and the Incheon Landing Operation Memorial Hall in Yeonsu District, Incheon.

It also sometimes stages political campaigns, such as criticizing North Korea’s nuclear test.

The annual budget of the organization is about 10 billion won and about 1 billion won of that comes from government subsidies.

The NPA said that they obtained such intelligence from an official of the organization, currently reviewing some accounting books and official documents created for a series of projects.

Sources of the NPA confirmed that they have gained access to the organization’s bookkeepers’ personal bank accounts, which are suspected of being used for appropriating the organization’s funds and secured testimony that could confirm such violations from several officials.

The police said a large sum of donations, including the 720 million won donated from the Federation of Korean Industries in 2010, was deposited into several officials’ bank accounts and later withdrawn from ATM machines or wired to third bank accounts.

The police said that only 295 million won has been recorded as the amount the organization received as donations for its accounting book in 2010.

“We will determine the penalty for those officials who are under investigation after wrapping up the process,” a spokesman of the NPA said.

The Freedom Federation denied such allegations through a press release yesterday, saying, “An official in the accounting division received donations via a personal bank account and then wired them into the organization’s account. We admit that it was negligence of the official’s duty, but no one used the government’s subsidies or contributions for personal affairs.”

The police also found that the organization has replaced the hard drives of three PCs in the accounting division office. The police judge that the replacement was done in preparation of a police raid.

By Ko Sung-pyo, Kim So-hyun []
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