Prober of Sungnyemun restoration kills himself

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Prober of Sungnyemun restoration kills himself

A university professor investigating the flawed restoration of the Sungnyemun, or Namdaemun Gate, took his life Saturday, leaving behind a suicide note saying he was “in great suffering.”

The 56-year-old professor, surnamed Park, was found hanging from an electrical extension cord in a wood specimen laboratory at Chungbuk National University in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, by his wife and a student at 3:15 p.m. Saturday. The police concluded the cause of death was asphyxiation. No injuries were found on his body.

“I am in great suffering,” wrote Park in a notepad found in his pants pocket. “I’m sorry to end my life here.”

Park, a professor of wood science at Chungbuk National University, was a member of a team investigating the rushed and seemingly shoddy restoration of the Sungnyemun, which is Korea’s National Treasure No. 1.

Park’s role was to find out whether some of the wood used in the restoration was not geumgang-song, a type of homegrown pine, but imported from Russia or elsewhere at a cheaper price.

The investigation team was assembled late last year at the request of the Cultural Heritage Administration and the police following allegations that shoddy, cheaper materials were used in the restoration of the beloved structure.

Destroyed by arson in February 2008, the 600-year-old gate reopened to the public last May following a costly and high-profile restoration. Large celebrations followed.

But serious problems became apparent after five months.

By October, lawmakers, media organizations and cultural heritage experts could see that the traditional designs painted onto the wooden structures of the Sungnyemun were peeling, and cracks were visible in some wooden parts.

Park recently notified the authorities of the results of his investigation. In a live interview with JTBC’s News 9 last Friday, Park said two of the 19 wood specimens he examined were definitely not geumgang-song and five others were suspicious.

Park was summoned for questioning by the police last Monday after one of the companies involved in the restoration sued the investigation team claiming there was mischievous activity involved in the investigation.

The Heungdeok Police Precinct in Cheongju are looking into whether Park was under external pressure or threatened because of his part in the investigation. Park’s family told authorities he was taking anti-anxiety medication in recent days.

The police said they have identified a call Park received right after his interview with JTBC Friday, but have not disclosed the identity of the caller.


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