Public servants hide wealth, Seoul burglary suspect says

He sends his allegations to opposition party


SEOUL, South Korea -- Call it the kimchi capers.

A thief breaks into the homes of several prominent citizens, including two Cabinet members and two police chiefs, stealing all kinds of loot.

But when a suspect is finally apprehended, he allegedly tells prosecutors that his victims have vastly understated their losses.

A police chief failed to report a wad of cash the thief had found under a container for the pickled cabbage in the refrigerator, said Kim Kang Ryong, the 32-year-old burglary suspect.

Another police chief failed to report stacks of bills Kim allegedly pilfered from a flower vase. Missing gold ingots, expensive jewels and valuable paintings also went unreported, the suspect allegedly insists.

Kim even claims to have stolen $120,000 from the briefcase of a prominent governor who is President Kim Dae Jung's economic adviser.

In a country where memories of bribery scandals that brought down former presidents are still fresh, the scandal has South Koreans wondering who to believe, the suspect or their own officials.

"The politicians are all thieves," taxi driver Kim Il Won, 48, scoffed as he launched into a harangue about corruption. "They wouldn't claim how much they lost, because the politicians would have [gotten] their wealth through corruption in the first place."

Raising eyebrows even more is how the thief's story came to light. While in jail awaiting trial, the suspect sent a letter disclosing his allegations to the opposition Grand National Party, which went public with the charges.

Many publications now are making hay with the scandal. "The thief is shouting out and the victims are hush-hush," blared a recent headline in the Hankuk newspaper. Some of the 19 alleged victims say they aren't missing anything.

Police Chief Kyung Hwan claims to have lost only 8 million won (about $7,000) in cash that he said he was saving from bonuses, not the 50 million-plus won the thief claims he found in 58 envelopes, newspaper reports say.

Pub Date: 5/15/99

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