Alleged corruption taints Miss Korea contest

SOUTH KOREA - A fresh bribery scandal is tarnishing the image of Miss Korea, the nation's top beauty pageant.

"Sisa Magazine 2580," an MBC investigative journalism programme, reported Sunday that a mother of one participant in last year's contest offered money to an employee of The Hankook Ilbo, the daily that hosts the event, to put her daughter at an advantage.

The programme also showed that contestants offered judges expensive gifts such as pearl rings and other bribes prior to the event.

"One of the senior staff of the contest told me to buy off two judges. He gave me a bank account and told me to wire money to that," one former contestant told the MBC programme on condition of anonymity.

"From now onward, your success hinges on how hard your mother tries to court judges ― 500 million won (S$585,000) for first place, 300 million won for second and 100 million won for third."

Following the broadcast, angry netizens criticised the country's oldest beauty competition, saying it was money, not looks, that determined the fate of Miss Korea aspirants.

The Hankook Ilbo said it felt "moral responsibility" for the alleged corruption.

"We have so far strived to keep the evaluation process fair and objective through multiple screenings. Yet, there were some private irregularities that occurred clandestinely," a spokesperson told local media. "We feel moral responsibility for failing to prevent that."

The newspaper said that although a mother of a contestant offered one of its employees some money for a get-together for the company staff, it was not aware that the money was from her. It added the employee offered to resign after getting reprimanded.

"Our company will make all-out efforts to make the judging process more transparent and cleaner in the wake of this case," the company said.