Won named in raid over forest service center plan

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Won named in raid over forest service center plan

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office raided the state-run Korea Forest Service in Daejeon on Monday on suspicion that former main spy agency chief Won Sei-hoon pressured the state institution to issue a grant for the country’s major retailer Homeplus to build its company training center on Muui Island, Incheon.

The prosecutors said a dozen prosecution officials were dispatched to the forest service to collect documents and computer hard disks.

The raid came three days after the former chief of the National Intelligence Service was indicted without physical detention by prosecutors for alleged interference in last year’s presidential election.

The prosecutors reportedly obtained testimony from Lee Seung-han, the former Homeplus CEO, during questioning last month that Lee asked Won in person to solve the stalemate with his company’s plan to build an education institute for its employees on the island.

Homeplus’ plan for the education center construction on the island was thwarted in 2009 as the forest service rejected the retailer’s request to remove the recreational forest designation on the island as part of its construction bid. The removal request was finally granted by the forest service in Jan. 2010, nine months after the initial rejection.

Prosecutors are looking into whether Won exerted pressure on the environment preservation agency to shift its stance on the request.

Prosecutors are now eyeing the president of Hwangbo Construction, Hwang Bo-yeong, who is suspected of arranging a meeting between Won and Lee.

Hwang’s construction company was a subcontractor for Homeplus and had won a number of bids to build the retailer’s stores in the country.

Because of Hwang’s business relationship with the country’s second-largest retailer, the investigators are looking into whether or not Won was paid by the construction firm owner for influence peddling.

BY SHIM SAE-ROM, KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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