Universities seek to quell gang activity

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Universities seek to quell gang activity

Students are increasingly turning their backs on student councils at local universities, with some colleges terminating them altogether. These developments are part of the aftermath of a series of scandals in recent months implicating these boards, which gang members have infiltrated to extort school funds and commit other fraud.

University councils in Korea are typically in charge of planning and hosting a variety of campus events and hiring companies to produce their yearbooks. Students pay union fees to support the council, which is funded by the school administration.

In the past, these crime syndicates have tended to target community colleges because admission is easier. Many local colleges also struggle to recruit students and generally have more relaxed standards.

To ensure gang members are elected to student councils, syndicates use intimidation to force other candidates to withdraw from the race. They also receive bribes from businesses vying for contracts to host school events.

This year alone, gang members were found to have been running six student bodies at local universities.

In North Gyeongsang, two gangs have controlled Gumi University’s student council twice in recent years, embezzling about 140 million won ($131,880) of school funds.

Likewise, Suncheon First College, in South Jeolla, lost 300 million won in school funds because of its criminal-dominated student council.

And Gimcheon University, North Gyeongsang, which learned in April that a student mafia was running its council, even terminated its student board for the next academic year.

Amid news of the corruption, students have become increasingly indifferent toward these councils.

Chungcheong University, a two-year college in North Chungcheong, had to cancel its presidential council election last month for the first time in 32 years because of a low voter turnout, with just 24.5 percent.

The school was mired in a scandal earlier this year when its two former student council heads were charged for taking bribes totaling 40 million won from a yearbook publisher in return for a contract.

The suspects are members of a crime syndicate called the Paradise Gang in Cheongju, North Chungcheong.

In an effort to prevent further manipulation, a number of local schools now require those running for the student council presidency to submit criminal records, barring those with a sketchy history from campaigning. But despite somewhat belated preventive measures, many schools have continued to suffer from corrupt councils.

The Gwangju Metropolitan Police Precinct launched an investigation last month into allegations that a 24-year-old student body president at Dongkang College embezzled about 13 million won of school money.

The police suspect the school’s two former heads also pocketed school funds by exerting their influence. The police are therefore expanding their investigation into other schools.

BY KIM YOON-HO, KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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