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Mayor of world championship bid city accused of forgery

By Narae Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - The mayor of South Korean city Gwangju, which is hoping to host the 2019 world swimming championships, will face criminal charges after he allegedly forged signatures of key officials in a bid document, a government official said on Friday.

Kang Un-tae has been accused of forging the signatures of former prime minister Kim Hwang-sik and former culture minister Choe Kwang-sik in a bid document that guaranteed financial aid from the government for the event.

Budapest and Abu Dhabi are the other two cities bidding to host the gathering with world governing body FINA due to announce the winner later on Friday ahead of the 15th world championships in Barcelona.

An official at the Gwangju Metropolitan City, who refused to be identified, fumed over the timing of the allegations and said the authorities should have waited for the FINA announcement before going public.

"I do not understand why the central government is bursting bubbles at the last minute. Why now and with what kind of intention? The timing is suspicious..." he told Reuters.

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

The official felt the allegations could still hurt the city's chances of winning the hosting rights, which he said would have benefited the entire country.

"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," he added.

Any South Korean city wanting to host an international sporting event that requires at least 1 billion won ($895,000) in government support must gain separate permission from the country's Olympic Committee and the central government.

The government denied their involvement in leaking the news and said there was no "political intention" behind the timing of the accusation.

"We were going to release it next Monday, so we too are confused and unprepared for the barrage. There is no political intention involved," a ministry official, while confirming that the government will press charges against Kang, told Reuters.

"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."

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by John O'Brien)

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