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Police in South Korea probe crime ring role in Gwangju building collapse

A building that was undergoing demolition when it collapsed onto a bus in Gwangju, South Korea, is under investigation. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE
A building that was undergoing demolition when it collapsed onto a bus in Gwangju, South Korea, is under investigation. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

June 14 (UPI) -- Police in South Korea are investigating whether former members of an organized crime ring were overseeing demolition work at a building in the city of Gwangju before it collapsed Wednesday, killing nine people.

Gwangju Police Agency's investigation bureau is probing allegations that a former gang member was involved in the redevelopment of the building site, which is located in an area designated for new construction, Yonhap and local network MBC reported Monday.

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Representatives of shareholders of the Hakdong District 4 Redevelopment Association, a limited-equity cooperative, told Yonhap that the suspected ex-gang member owned a stake in a management company overseeing demolition.

But sources also said that they "did not know" that the executive was formerly affiliated with a crime ring.

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Shareholders "only learned through press reports that a former gangster was involved in the redevelopment project," Yonhap's source said.

The source also denied any connection between the cooperative and alleged ties between an asbestos removal company and a subcontractor. Local police are investigating whether Dawon NC, an asbestos removal firm, illegally subcontracted work to Baeksol Construction, the company that was directly involved in the demolition.

People died last week when the building unexpectedly collapsed onto a bus, killing and injuring passengers on board.

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South Korea's presidential office has said that the road was left open to cars despite demolition work.

MBC reported other sources at the limited-equity cooperative have claimed the former crime ring member was well acquainted with the head of their association.

A cooperative member who spoke anonymously to the network said that the suspect "mobilized thugs" to help his friend, the current cooperative chief, be elected to head the association.

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President Moon Jae-in has ordered the police and related agencies to "thoroughly investigate" the accident.

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