Corruption case transfixes South Korea

A senior South Korean prosecutor has been indicted for bribery after allegedly receiving more than Won950m ($ 854,000) via cash and shares from a gambling boss.

South Korea has been gripped by the scandal that highlights the frequently close ties between high-ranking civil servants and leading businessmen, and comes at a time of growing public distrust of the judiciary.

Jin Kyung-joon has become the most senior prosecutor indicted in modern South Korean history over allegations of shares handed over by Kim Jung-ju, the founder of Nexon, the country’s biggest online gaming company. 

The scandal came to light this year after Mr Jin reported a sharp increase in his personal wealth — a mandatory disclosure for ranking government officials and lawmakers — for 2015.

Lee Keum-ro, a special prosecutor leading the investigation, said on Friday that Mr Jin had received shares in Nexon Japan worth about Won85m in 2006 from the company. Mr Kim gave money to Mr Jin, who bought shares in Nexon Korea in 2005 before the company went public. A year later Mr Jin sold the shares to Nexon Korea and bought shares of Nexon Japan. Mr Jin made about Won13bn by selling the shares last year. 

Mr Jin also received about Won50m from Mr Kim for his family’s overseas trips, it is alleged. Mr Lee declined to reveal details but said Mr Jin offered counsel for some legal cases involving Nexon.

In return for a cleaning contract for his brother-in-law’s company, he allegedly closed a tax probe into Korean Air, the national carrier. 

Mr Lee said Mr Jin would be stripped of his duties as a prosecutor and forfeit all illegally obtained assets. If found guilty, he would face more than 10 years in prison and fines of up to five times the amount of bribes received.

Nexon’s Mr Kim was also indicted for bribery but not detained. Mr Kim issued a public apology on Friday and stepped down from Nexon’s board. Mr Lee said Mr Jin, who was arrested on Sunday, admitted most of his wrongdoing but was unavailable for comment. 

Kim Hyun-woong, the justice minister, and Kim Soo-nam, the prosecutor-general, made public apologies and promised fundamental reforms. But the case has sparked a public uproar against prosecutors, who have the exclusive power to launch and close criminal investigations. 

Prosecutors have for years faced accusations of abusing their power for personal gain. In 2011 a female prosecutor was accused of accepting a luxury German car and a designer handbag from a lawyer and in 2012 a young prosecutor lost his job after having sex with a suspect while questioning her.

South Korea ranked 38th among 42 nations surveyed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development last year on citizens’ confidence in their judiciary. 

More recently, Jeong Un-ho, head of the Nature Republic cosmetics group, was found to have paid his lawyers millions of dollars to use their connections in the judiciary to ensure leniency when he was accused of embezzlement and gambling overseas.

Corruption is rife despite rapid economic development in South Korea. Transparency International last year ranked South Korea 27th of the OECD’s 34 members in its perceived corruption index. The Constitutional Court of Korea on Thursday upheld a sweeping anti-corruption law that will come into force in September despite a business backlash.

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