Man-Ki Kim was once celebrated as a hero in Bonn for promising to fund the World Conference Center. For three years, he led Bonn’s politicians by the nose and steered the city into its worst financial debacle ever.
Man-Ki Kim was once celebrated as a hero in Bonn
When Berlin once again became Germany's capital after Reunification, Bonn, the former West German capital, was transformed into an "international city" hosting UN institutions and many conferences.
The local authorities planned a state-of-the-art congress center – the largest in Germany – but it took years to find funding.
In 2005, the South Korean businessman Man-Ki Kim came to the city’s rescue, with promises to invest over 40 million euros in the World Conference Center of Bonn. He said the construction would be fast and cost-effective and was hailed as a hero. However, the tables turned when it became clear that he did not have the money.
Work is not expected to start again on Bonn's World Conference Center until 2012
In November last year, Kim was arrested in the US, after 16 months of searching. The German authorities asked for his extradition. Earlier this month, he arrived back in Germany and was immediately remanded into custody.
Losses of hundreds of millions
Due to the fiasco, Bonn and its citizens have lost hundreds of millions of euros and they are deeply disappointed with their politicians.
"I think it is a big disaster because everybody had delusions of grandeur," one woman surveyed by Deutsche Welle said. "They knew that the city of Bonn had no money. I think Kim just wrapped everybody around his little finger. He was charming and said nice things. They were just too naive and only wanted to have a prestigious project. They all speak too much and assume that the citizens are stupid."
"It is actually a huge embarrassment for the politicians," another Bonn citizen agreed. "I think it will also damage the reputation of the city. It is a disgrace for all taxpayers. I cannot judge whether it was megalomania, if there were other intrigues or whether it was simply the incompetence of those responsible."
Kim had claimed he was the president of a company named SMI Hyundai Corporation and all the involved parties blindly believed that the firm was linked to the famous automobile giant Hyundai-Kia.
However, anybody curious enough could have found out with only four clicks through cyberspace that the two companies had absolutely nothing to do with each other.
'The temptation was too big'
So how could a simple Korean businessman have won the trust of so many influential politicians in Bonn in such a short time?
"He gave the impression of being a very urbane, eloquent and visionary person," explained Wilfried Klein, the leader of the Social Democrat (SPD) parliamentary group in Bonn's city council.
Bonn's former SPD mayor Baerbel Dieckmann is currently under investigation
"You have to imagine that the local authorities had already gone through a long search process at the beginning. For years they looked for a solution in order to build this conference center that was needed for the UN in Bonn. There were many potential investors but negotiations were never completed or successful. And when they got this offer from Man-Ki Kim the temptation to accept it was big - probably too big!"
Man-Ki Kim is suspected of fraud, bribery and aiding bribery but his lawyer Walther Graf was quick to point out there had not yet been any charges.
"Dr. Kim was and is very keen to express his view of things," he said. "He now has the opportunity and he will make extensive use of it. Dr. Kim will cooperate fully with the investigative authorities."
German prosecutors are also investigating 14 other people in the case, including the former mayor of Bonn.
Work on the conference center is not expected to resume before 2012.
Author: Angelina Vogt
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein