Conviction upheld in Obama award forgery

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Conviction upheld in Obama award forgery

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a lower court fraud conviction for three employees of a non-governmental organization who counterfeited an award by capitalizing on the name of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The three men were found guilty of fraud for presenting fake awards to 29 people and pocketing about 120 million won ($99,000) from the recipients in February and March 2011. The victims included middle and high school students, lawyers and businessmen.

The victims paid the organization about 15 million won each and even flew to the United States to receive the purportedly presidential honor. The NGO held an award ceremony at a Korean restaurant in Washington, D.C.

The swindlers purchased award certificates online for 85 cents each and souvenir medals that cost about $7.

The court ordered one defendant to pay a 7 million won fine, while the other two were fined 5 million won each.

The swindlers called their award the Presidential Champion Award, after an existing honor, the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which only U.S. citizens and lawfully admitted permanent residents in the United States are eligible to receive.

The victims were told by the organization that the honor would ensure their admission to prestigious universities and obtaining of U.S. residency.

Awards and certificates for extracurricular activities are often considered in admissions at high-ranking schools, and parents in Korea are notorious for spending vast amounts on private education for their children.

Over the past few years, the government has worked to resolve the ill effects that have resulted from an oversaturated private education market. The Ministry of Education announced a plan in 2013 to simplify the university admissions process and later started providing subsidies to schools that cooperated with its campaign to reduce emphasis on private tutoring.

Yet despite such efforts, the quest for academic excellence remains fierce, which perpetuates scams that capitalize on those aims.

BY SEO BOK-HYEON, SHIN SOO-YEON [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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