‘International’ school faces investigation for swindling

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‘International’ school faces investigation for swindling

A couple in their 50s who ran an illegal international school in Yongsan District was charged by Seoul prosecutors on Sunday for embezzling some 2.8 billion won ($2.39 million) in education fees paid by parents.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said that the 57-year-old Park, who ran the international school in Yongsan District in central Seoul, and his 58-year-old wife surnamed Kim, who served as the school’s accountant, were indicted without detention for violating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Since 2012, the pair embezzled money deposited by parents to enroll their children at the supposed international school, which did not have proper permits from the Ministry of Education. They also enrolled Korean students who would not have met qualifications to be admitted to an international school and forged documents including character references for their foreign teachers.

The money that Kim and Park swindled was used to repay personal debts and acquire real estate in their daughter’s name. The school, which runs from kindergarten through 12th grade, was first established in 1999 by a Korean-American surnamed Song.

The tuition for the school cost up to 28 million won per student.

Park and Kim have been running the school since March 2012, but because it fell short on enrolled students, they began accepting candidates who did not meet the proper qualifications to attend an international school. Requirements include holding foreign citizenship, having at least one parent who is a foreign citizen or having lived at least three years overseas.

At international schools, only a limited number of spots are open to Korean citizens. But the pair accepted nearly all the candidates who were Koreans citizens without any overseas residency or parents who were foreign citizens, misusing the exemption that enables few spots at international schools to be open to Koreans.

About 80 students out of 210 admitted to the school in 2012 were qualified to attend international school, according to the prosecution’s investigation. That dropped to under 20 qualified students last year.

To evade Seoul education authorities, the couple initially pretended they were running a life-long education facility and a private academy. After the Seoul Metropolitan Government Office got rid of the life-long education facility in June 2013, the couple pretended to run a school within a church, in the same location. Park’s contract with Song expired in August 2013, but they continued to use the school’s name.

The Seoul Education Office ordered the school to close down in March. Prosecutors said they will continue to investigate the admission of students who were not qualified to attend international schools.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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