Case builds over Won’s kickbacks

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Case builds over Won’s kickbacks

Following an 11-hour grilling, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office is considering requesting a court to issue an arrest warrant for Won Sei-hoon, former chief of Korea’s main spy agency on alleged charges of receiving kickbacks amounting to 150 million won ($131,250) from a local constructor.

It is reported that though Won denied the bribery allegations against him during questioning Thursday, the prosecutors have obtained enough evidence and testimony from people implicated in the scandal to back up Won’s charge.

The former spy chief is suspected of receiving kickbacks amounting to 150 million won from a local constructor named Hwang Bo-yeon in return for his influence-peddling as chief of the National Intelligence Agency.

Prosecutors are also reportedly looking into whether Won unlawfully intervened in joint state-private construction bids exploiting his influence as NIS chief.

On his way out of the prosecutors’ office at around 1:20 a.m. Friday after questioning, Won said, “I have known Hwang for a long time, so I have received gifts from him for occasions like my birthday. But I never received money [for influence peddling].”

The prosecutors suspect Won received the 150-million-won bribe from Hwang, who owns Hwangbo Construction and has been indicted for embezzling his firm’s money, to exert pressure on the state-run Korea Forest Service to grant the country’s major retailer Homeplus a contract to construct an education center for its employees on Muui Island, Incheon.

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.

Homeplus’ construction plan on the island was initially thwarted in 2009 as the forest service rejected the retailer’s request to remove the national recreational forest designation on the island as part of its construction bid.

Under such national designation, construction development projects are banned.

But only nine months after the rejection, the forest service granted the removal request in January 2010, enabling the country’s second-largest retailer to set up its education center.

The prosecutorial questioning on Thursday was the third such questioning Won has had this year. Won was probed in April and May on charges of ordering spy agents to intervene in the 2012 presidential election in violation of national election laws.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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