Ex-NIS chief detained over bribery charges

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Ex-NIS chief detained over bribery charges


Won Sei-hoon, former director of the National Intelligence Service, rides in a prosecutor’s vehicle Wednesday night as he is moved to a detention center. [NEWSIS]

A former spy chief was detained Wednesday night on charges of receiving bribes from a local construction firm, further tainting his already-damaged image along with that of the intelligence agency.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) has been accused of interfering in the most recent presidential election.

Won Sei-hoon, the former director of the NIS, was under detention after a court issued an arrest warrant which was requested by prosecutors last Friday.

“It seems that [Won’s] crimes are obvious, and there is reasonable concern that the suspect might attempt to destroy evidence or flee,” Judge Kim Woo-soo was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency.

The Seoul Central District Court is moving forward with the bribery case at the same time Won is charged with meddling in last year’s presidential election by ordering NIS agents to post comments critical of Moon Jae-in, the Democratic Party’s candidate who ultimately lost. On his way to court on Wednesday, the top official denied the allegation, saying that he only received “a birthday gift.”

Won is suspected of accepting cash and gold amounting to 150 million won ($132,000) in kickbacks from Hwang Bo-yeon, head of the now defunct Hwangbo Construction, according to the prosecutors.

In return, Won allegedly helped the company win orders and major construction projects since 2009.

The construction company’s books detailing the illegal transaction reportedly served as evidence for the bribery case, along with Hwang’s testimony.

Hwang has testified that he gave Won cash and gifts in exchange for the spy chief’s influence in getting major construction projects by public institutions and large corporations.

Local media outlets also reported that the builder had frequently met Won during his term at the spy agency and bribed him at a meeting he arranged with other people in the construction business. Authorities are focusing on the alleged influence-peddling by Won regarding the state-run Korea Forest Service, which granted the country’s major retailer, Homeplus, a contract to build a company education center for its employees in Incheon back in 2010.

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. Under such a designation, construction development projects are banned.

But only nine months later, the forest service granted the removal request in January 2010. Prosecutors suspect Won pressured the environment preservation agency to grant permission.

If convicted, Won is the second intelligence chief to receive bribes after Kwon Young-hae, former director under the former Kim Young-sam administration. Kwon was indicted for pocketing the 1 billion won public fund allocated to the intelligence agency in 2004 after being charged with accepting bribes in 1995.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]
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