By James Crook

FINA President Julio Maglione and Gwangju Mayor Kang Un-TaeJuly 19 - The South Korean city of Gwangju has been awarded the right to host the 2019 International Aquatics Federation (FINA) World Championships despite news that the city's Mayor Kang Un-tae is facing criminal charges for allegedly forging the signatures of key officials in a bid document.

Kang, who also serves as co-chairman of the Gwangju 2015 Summer Universiade Organising Committee, has been accused of faking the signatures of both former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik and former Culture Minister Choe Kwang-sik in a document that served as a financial guarantee from the Government for the hosting of the aquatics showpiece event.

"We found out the Metropolitan City of Gwangju used the forged signatures of former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik and former Culture Minister Choe Kwang-shik in the financial guarantee letter during their bid to host the 2019 FINA World Championships," a Ministry official admitted in a local news report.

"Regardless of the bid outcome, we will charge the city Government for using forged signatures in the document."

Governmental financial guarantees are essential for international events that require financial support totalling more than 1 billion South Korean Won (£585,000/$900,000/€680,000).

FINA President Julio Maglione and Gwangju Mayor Kang Un-Tae make the awarding of the 2019 World Aquatics Championships officialFINA President Julio Maglione and Gwangju Mayor Kang Un-Tae make the awarding of the 2019 World Aquatics Championships official

The accusations came to light this morning on the day of the announcement of the host cities for the 2019 and 2021 FINA World Championships, which eventually went to Gwangju and Budapest respectively.

But a Ministry official denied that there was a political agenda behind the timing of the allegations becoming public.

"We were going to release it next Monday, so we too are confused and unprepared for the barrage," the unnamed official told Reuters.

"There is no political intention involved.

"This scandal, if proven true, is a great humiliation to the nation.

"It is a shameful accusation that hurts the credibility of South Korea.

"There is no way the Ministry did it on purpose."

Although Gwangju won the rights to host the 2019 championships ahead of Hungarian capital Budapest, which was instead awarded the succeeding event in 2021, there were fears that the Gwangju bid for the World Championships could be compromised in the wake of the allegations, and an official at Gwangju Metropolitan City said that they felt "betrayed" by the timing.

"I do not understand why the central Government is bursting bubbles at the last minute," the anonymous spokesperson said.

"Why now and with what kind of intention?

"The timing is suspicious.

"I heard the mayor was extremely dumbfounded to hear the accusation this morning and is discussing follow-up measures with other related officials.

"For Hungary, its Prime Minister is at the presentation helping our competitor beat us but look what South Korea's Government has done to us.

"We feel betrayed."

flag-handover022Kang Un-tae waves the FISU flag at the Kazan 2013 Universiade

The allegations have overshadowed a historic few days for the city of Gwangju after Kang received the International University Sports Federation (FISU) flag at the closing ceremony of the Kazan 2013 Summer Universiade on Wednesday (July 17), recognising the city as the next host of the event in 2015.

"It is a great moment for our city," said Kang, in a statement released following the awarding of the 2019 FINA World Championships, which makes no mention of the forgery allegations against him.

"In just two days, we have had the honour to be entrusted with two of the world's greatest sports events.

"While I was standing in the middle of the spectacular Kazan closing ceremony waving the Universiade flag as the next host, our strong team was already hard at work in Barcelona preparing for the crucial presentation in front of the FINA bureau.

"Today, when the FINA President opened the envelope to reveal Gwangju, I felt immensely proud of the sporting achievements of my great city over the last few years."

FINA failed to comment when contacted by insidethegames.

Today's news is not first case of sports administration fraud that South Korea has seen in recent history.

The nation's Chef De Mission for London 2012, Lee Ki-Heung, was forced to step down after he appeared before prosecutors for questioning over allegations about a deal with major appliance retailer Hi-Mart Corporation.

When his conglomerate acquired the company in 2007, Lee allegedly secured managerial rights and allowed illegal favours to Hi-Mart chairman Sun Jong-koo through the contract.

Another South Korean, International Olympic Committee (IOC) member and chairman of Samsung Electronics Lee Kun-hee – a worldwide Olympic partner – was fined a record £58 million ($88 million/€68 million) and handed a three-year suspended prison sentence after he was found guilty of failing to pay almost £25 million ($38 million/€29 million) in taxes.

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