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Mayor’s texts point to political favor-hunting

Dec 12,2018
Former Gwangju Mayor Yoon Jang-hyun’s text messages with a scammer who pretended to be former President Roh Moo-hyun’s wife indicate that Yoon was hoping to win his party nomination by offering financial favors to her, according to prosecutors working on the case.

Yoon exchanged at least 12 phone calls and 268 text messages with the scammer.

Yoon was questioned by the Gwangju District Prosecutors’ Office on Tuesday for the second time for allegedly violating the Public Official Election Act during his dealings with the 49-year-old woman surnamed Kim, who impersonated Kwon Yang-sook, wife of former President Roh. Yoon was the mayor of Gwangju from 2014 to 2018.

Yoon is accused of sending Kim 450 million won ($397,900) in four transactions from December 2017 to January of this year, according to prosecutors. He also allegedly found jobs for Kim’s children, believing that they were the offspring of Roh.

Prosecutors believe that Yoon provided the money and favors because Kim promised Yoon political help ahead of the local elections in June.

“I put in a word for you to the party chairwoman, Choo Mi-ae,” Kim said in a text message to Yoon early January. At the time, Choo was the chairwoman of the Democratic Party (DP). She also mentioned then-Gwangju mayoral candidate Lee Yong-seop, who was ultimately elected in June, in her text messages before the elections.

“Mayor Yoon, of course you must be re-elected. I called Lee Yong-seop and talked him out of [running in the election],” Kim said in a text message in mid-January. “I think he got the point.”

After President Moon Jae-in’s birthday on Jan. 24, Kim sent Yoon a text message that said, “I met with the president on his birthday and we had a talk.”

Prosecution said that Yoon sent messages that indicated he did favors for Kim to build political ties to help him earn the DP’s Gwangju mayoral nomination for himself or his allies in the local elections in June.

The statue of limitations on investigations related to the June local elections expires on Wednesday. Prosecutors are hoping to charge Yoon with violating the Public Official Election Act before then.

Prosecution said they may also charge Yoon for violating the Political Fund Act. They are trying to pin down where he got 100 million won of the 450 million won he gave Kim. The rest of the money was confirmed to have been obtained through bank loans Yoon took out.

Yoon denied the allegations on Tuesday upon entering the Gwangju Prosecutors’ Office.

“The prosecution are showing parts of the text messages that seem to confirm the allegations,” Yoon told reporters before entering the prosecutors’ office for his questioning. “But they must be read in full context. They were nothing more than friendly how-do-you-do kind of messages.”

When the story on the voice phishing scam first broke in November, Yoon was considered a victim. He was in Nepal at the time on a medical volunteer trip. But as the investigation expanded, prosecutors targeted Yoon as a suspect in the case. Yoon was summoned and questioned for around 14 hours on Monday.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, KIM HO [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]