A total of 17 people, including a veteran carpenter, have been arrested on various corruption charges related to their participation in the restoration of one of Seoul's ancient city gates, police said Wednesday.
Shin Eung-soo, the 71-year-old carpenter who took charge of the carpentry work for the project, is under suspicion of siphoning off timbers, including Korea-grown pine timbers called geumgang, that were supposed to be used to replace burned columns in the wooden gate, police said.
Sungnyemun, one of the four gates that surrounded the capital city during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), reopened in May 2013 after undergoing years of repairs due to an arson attack by a disgruntled elderly man in February 2008.
However, allegations emerged that the gate had been poorly restored, with cracks in some of its pillars, mismatched parts and damaged paintwork, prompting a police investigation into the project.
The National Police Agency said that Shin allegedly siphoned off nearly 160 sets of timbers worth 102 million won ($9,5000) for personal use or for other restoration projects.
Shin is also under suspicion of giving bribes worth 25 million won to the head of a local company that specializes in repairing cultural assets, surnamed Kim, in exchange for borrowing a certificate to allow him to participate in other restoration projects of cultural assets.
Two other officials of the Cultural Heritage Administration have been booked on charges of accepting kickbacks from Kim, NPA officers said.
The loss of the gate in a massive fire sent a shockwave across the nation in which people have a deep emotional attachment to Sungnyemun and view it as the public face of their architectural heritage. The gate is officially designated the country's No. 1 treasure. (Yonhap)