More hanky panky alleged in restoration work

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More hanky panky alleged in restoration work

Authorities investigating the faulty restoration of Sungnyemun, or Namdaemun Gate, said yesterday that they will further investigate Sin Eung-soo, the chief carpenter for the restoration process, over allegations he spirited away lumber donated by the public for the reconstruction of the country’s No. 1 national treasure.

Authorities estimated that the value of the stolen lumber was approximately 42 million won ($39,020).

The police raided Sin’s lumber mill in January on suspicions he supplied substandard wood for the restoration. The gate reopened last May after a five-year restoration, but some of the work was found to be rushed and substandard.

The police also suspect the 71-year-old carpenter purloined four Geumgang pine trees that were provided in 2008 by the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) for the reconstruction of Gwanghwamun, the main gate of the Gyeongbok Palace, under Sin’s supervision. Geumgang pine trees are praised for their resilience, straightness and density. The estimated value of the four pine trees is about 60 million won.

Sin told the police that he did move the four Geumgang pines to his lumber mill. But in the case of the lumber donated for the Namdaemun restoration, he said he had no idea of what happened to it.

Authorities also alleged additional corruption in restoration jobs. When repairing the Gyeongbok Palace, Sin’s company allegedly illegally borrowed a heritage restoration certificate from a contractor in charge of the palace and paid him 25 million won.

The 75-year-old president of the contracted construction company, who was surnamed Kim, allegedly lent the certificate to eight heritage repair companies including Sin’s and was paid 675 million won in total.

Kim is also under investigation on suspicions of falsifying and embezzling construction expenses adding up to 500 million won.

According to the police, Kim’s company allegedly offered bribes of 42 million won to six civil servants of the CHA, as well as another 27.3 million won to five consultants in the Gwanghwamun and Sungnyemun restorations. The police are investigating two of the civil servants and notified the respective institutions of the allegations against the other officials.

“We feel responsible for causing such trouble related to the restorations of Sungnyemun and Gwanghwamun,” the CHA said in a statement released later yesterday.

BY KIM BONG-MOON [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]


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