Man linked to theft of millions in school books

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Man linked to theft of millions in school books

Police announced that they had arrested a 44-year-old man last month at Konkuk University over allegations that he stole 11 million won ($9,087) worth of books, money and valuables from eight universities since August.

The suspect, a former Yonsei University student, was apprehended Jan. 29. It was the third time he has been arrested for stealing.

“I still remember my parents rejoicing over my acceptance letter from Yonsei University,” said the man, surnamed Kim. “I was one of the elites … and I dreamed of creating a cultural enterprise for young people.

“I always did my best in life,” he added, “but never got anything in return.”

His family’s financial struggles forced him to find work straight out of high school, he said, and for three years Kim worked at convenience stores and bars, not ruling out manual labor.

Realizing that an undergraduate degree would help him go farther in life, he studied hard for one year and was accepted to Yonsei University’s Department of Mass Communication.

After finishing his junior year, he took time off school to volunteer for a year in Southeast Asia. But when he returned to Korea, what awaited him was 50 million won worth of household debt, the result of a failed business venture by his younger brother.

Kim told police he started giving private lessons day and night, taking in as many as seven to 10 students, putting his own education on hold.

In five years, Kim managed to pay back his brother’s debt, but the university had already expelled him for being absent for so long.

It was in 2004, he said, that he got the idea to steal expensive textbooks and resell them.

The thought crossed his mind one day when he was visiting Yonsei University and saw a legal digest sitting in a student council room.

“I was lost at 32, living in saunas and PC rooms,” Kim told police. “I saw a pandect sitting in the student council room at Yonsei University one day when I was visiting out of nostalgia. It all happened very quickly. I stole the book, fled the campus and sold the book at a used book store.

“I was holding 5,000 won in my hands when I realized what I had done.”

Stealing became much easier after that, he said.

In 2006, while out on a suspended sentence, Kim decided to make a change.

Giving private lessons, he amassed 20 million won over two years.

“Just when I was about to make things right, my brother asked me for help because he was getting married,” Kim said. “If I couldn’t make my parents happy, I wanted my brother to be able to do that by getting married and making a family.

“But after I had given him all my savings, a sense of helplessness came over me,” he said.

Reaching 40, he could no longer find students needing private lessons, so Kim resorted to stealing again and was arrested in 2013 and sent to jail.

But even after being released in October 2014, he continued to engage in theft.

“When I was accepted to an elite university, I thought my life was going to turn out great,” he said. “But I have no regrets. I’m thinking of starting over again after I’ve paid the price this time. I still dream of creating a cultural enterprise for young people.

“I want to pay back my debts by studying social welfare when I am released, to make sure no other students end up like me.”

BY PECK SOO-JIN [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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