Digging up suspicions over irregularities

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Digging up suspicions over irregularities

Lee Hwa-young, former deputy Gyeonggi governor, was arrested on charges of accepting bribes from underwear company SsangBangWool in return for business favors. According to the prosecution, Lee, who currently heads the convention and exhibition center Kintex, enjoyed perks worth 250 million won ($175,315) from the company in the form of corporate credit card and luxury vehicles from August 2018 to early this year. While serving as an outside board member of the company before being appointed as a deputy to then Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung, he had seated a proxy as an employee to the company to receive 900 million won in salary.

In return, SsangBangWool received help in signing a business agreement with North Korean organizations in Shenyang, China in 2019. A SsangBangWool unit touted it has won business rights in rare earth materials and other mineral resources in North Korea. The company’s stock jumped 30 percent on the news.

More suspicion has been added around Lee Hwa-young. His son was accepted to a SsangBangWool affiliate and received pay for a year although he has not reported to work. The company is suspected of having paid for most of the inter-Korean exchange events the municipal government of Gyeonggi held together with the Asia Pacific Exchange Association (APEA) in 2018 and 209, respectively in Gyeonggi and the Philippines. To win the business right in North Korea, the company had supplied funds to the Gyeonggi government through the APEA. The executives of the association are on trial for illegally supporting Lee Jae-myung in his presidential campaign as ruling party candidate.

Whether Lee Jae-myung, now head of the Democratic Party, had been unaware of the corruptions with the provincial government poses questions. The post of a deputy on peace was installed by Lee upon winning the gubernatorial election in 2018. Lee had been eager in inter-Korean cooperation and appointed his acquaintance Lee as the deputy. SsangBangWool is also suspected to have provided 2 billion won in legal fees for Lee when he was tried for violating the election law in 2018.

The former deputy governor denied the charges. A vice chairman of SsangBangWool was also arrested for bribing him. But he is not the key figure. Former Chair Kim Sung-tae, the real owner of the company, left the country in May.

Chairman Kim has been sought through the help of Interpol, but he has so far avoided being caught while discreetly meeting with executives. The prosecution must push harder to bring him back home to investigate the truth.
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