Vice-minister snared in nuke probe

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Vice-minister snared in nuke probe

The prosecution yesterday indicted a former vice-minister of Knowledge Economy on suspicion of receiving kickbacks from a local builder in a bid to win a nuclear reactor contract.

Park Young-june, a former government official who is already jailed on a separate power abuse conviction, is the latest in dozens of high-profile figures facing charges of accepting bribes in the graft-ridden nuclear power industry.

According to the eastern branch of the Busan District Prosecutors’ Office, the 52-year-old appointee of former President Lee Myung-bak pocketed 60 million won ($55,320) from an influential peddler named Oh Hee-taek in 2010.

The bribe is believed to be part of 1.3 billion won Oh received from Hankook Jungsoo Industries in 2009 after promising to help them win a contract to build a water purification facility for a UAE nuclear power plant project that Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) won the same year.

In February 2011, Hankook Jungsoo Industries won a contract worth 96 billion won from Kepco for the UAE facility.

Yesterday, the prosecution announced the results of its 105-day investigation into what began as a controversy over faulty parts supplied to nuclear power plants. The case expanded into a massive corruption scandal in the nuclear industry as bribery and other underhand dealings between the public nuclear corporation and contracting companies were revealed.

The probe, which deployed more than 100 prosecutors and investigation officers, has resulted in more than 97 criminal charges against high-ranking officials such as the former president of Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation and another senior official there as well as the vice president of Korea Electric Power Corporation.

The investigation began in May when it was revealed that substandard parts with fabricated testing certificates had been supplied to nuclear power reactors. That revelation led to the shutdown of two reactors supplied with the parts and the delay of operation at two others, bringing the nation close to power blackouts during a summer heat wave.

So far, the prosecution has investigated 56 nuclear parts companies and charged 10 employees on suspicion of being involved in the providing of faulty parts.

But then higher ranking officials were ensnared in the investigation.

The highest was Kim Jong-shin, former president of the state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation, who was indicted on charges of taking bribes of 130 million won for steering business to the company.

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

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