‘Lee lobbied officials in Gangnam hostess bar’

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‘Lee lobbied officials in Gangnam hostess bar’

Lee Young-bok, CEO of Cheongan Construction and head of a lush urban development project in Busan, who is accused of amassing 57 billion won ($48.8 million) in slush funds, used to rent out a hostess bar in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, where he would “lobby people related to the prosecution and Blue House,” according to a source who spoke exclusively with the JoongAng Ilbo on Friday.

The latest statement comes as prosecutors say they have yet to find any evidence that Lee coddled government officials using illicit money. So far, Lee has only been caught using the funds to purchase real estate and pay his living expenses. Prosecutors say with regard to lobby allegations, he is “keeping his mouth absolutely shut.”

After being on the lam for three months, Lee was arrested on Nov. 12. Authorities are now searching for the 51-year-old owner of the hostess bar in Gangnam, who helped Lee escape.

A man who claims he was close to the bar owner told the JoongAng Ilbo on Friday that since late last year, Lee Young-bok would frequently rent the entire bar, where he would lobby “businessmen, high-ranking government officials, people related to the prosecution and, of course, the Blue House.”

The bar was membership-only.

Another source who said he was also friendly with the bar owner told the paper that Lee often rented out 10 of the bar’s 13 rooms and invited “people related to the prosecution.”

But neither source said whether any prosecutors attended the events.

Lee was at the bar most often in early 2015, the sources claim, right before the sales began at the high-rise apartment complex he was developing along the coastline of Busan’s Haeundae District, known as the LCT.

“If you want to do business,” Lee was also quoted as saying, “keep in touch with entrepreneurs, lawmakers and people in the legal profession. When things get really tough, rely on the prosecution.”

A third source who said he met Lee several times, told the JoongAng Ilbo that “so many people saw him wandering around in Nonhyeon-dong [in Gangnam] wearing a baseball cap” before he was arrested, and it is therefore hard to believe prosecutors could not track him down for three months. But prosecutors say they were doing everything they could to find him.

BY JEONG JIN-WOO, YOON JUNG-MIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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