Visiting UN chief lands in middle of controversy

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Visiting UN chief lands in middle of controversy

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Ban Ki-moon

An email obtained by JTBC, a TV affiliate of Korea JoongAng Daily, suggests United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon may have been aware of the attempted sale of the Keangnam Enterprises’ building in Vietnam when he met with the emir of Qatar.

Ban arrives in Korea today for a five-day visit with family members caught up in fraud allegations and suspicions he may have played a role.

His younger brother Ban Ki-sang and nephew Bahn Joo-hyun are suspected of deceiving Keangnam Enterprises and its creditors while Bahn looked for potential buyers for a building in Hanoi. Bahn pretended the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the country’s sovereign wealth fund, was interested in buying Keangnam Landmark 72, the tallest building in Vietnam, which was built and owned by Keangnam Enterprises, and dropped his uncle’s name. The QIA later said it had never been interested in the property.

“QIA said the emir of Qatar had an official meeting with the UN Secretary General at the United Nations [Headquarters] at 11:30 a.m., and [Secretary General Ban] mentioned the Landmark 72 upon request of [Ban Ki-sang],” read an email Bahn sent to an employee of Keangnam Enterprises.

Keangnam Enterprises, which has been investigated on corruption allegations related to key initiatives under the Lee Myung-bak administration, tried to sell the Vietnamese building in 2013. At that time, Ban Ki-sang was a senior adviser of the construction company and recommended appointing U.S.-based real estate agency Colliers International - where Bahn was a managing director - as the exclusive agent for the sale. Keangnam Enterprises paid a 600 million won ($553,500) advance to the real estate firm’s New York branch on the condition it acquire a letter of intent from the QIA to buy the building.

After Bahn took charge of the sale, he hardly contacted Keangnam Enterprises, mainly going through his father. That led to suspicions that Bahn received orders from his father.

When Keangnam Enterprises asked for the QIA’s letter of intent, Bahn rejected the request, saying, “Keangnam Enterprises is not in a position to demand something from the QIA.” In the same letter, he wrote, “Since Keangnam largely benefited from the deal, follow our decisions as much as possible.”

An official of the construction company also complained it was difficult to reach Bahn by phone.

“It was very hard to talk to him on the phone, and we thought it was because of the time difference or his busy schedule at first,” said the official. “But we heard that he talked to senior adviser Ban Ki-sang.”

Meanwhile, Seoul Central District Court, which is managing receivership of the financially struggling construction company, said Saturday it had demanded that court receivers confirm the validity of the documents relating to Bahn and Keangnam Enterprises.

In a March letter, sent by Bahn, which he claimed was the letter from QIA, it read, “We are awaiting our Chief Executive Officer’s approval and the Board of Directors of QIA has preliminarily agreed to allocate funds for this transaction.”

But the QIA claimed the preliminary agreement was fabricated.

“They faked my signature and even put the QIA logo in the wrong side of the paper,” an official of the QIA told JTBC.

The court said it would consider criminal charges or damages if the document is proven to be forged.

Construction of Landmark 72, Vietnam’s tallest building, was completed in 2011 and cost Keangnam Enterprises about 1.2 trillion won. Subsequently, the company struggled to repay 530 billion won in debt and filed for court receivership in March.

BY JUNG JAE-YOON, KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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