Top SAT instructor reports violence

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Top SAT instructor reports violence

A much sought after SAT instructor was kidnapped and beaten after he tried to leave his private academy for another, according to his statement to police.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency is investigating the report by Jeffrey Sohn, 38, that the institute’s president surnamed Park, 41, used violence to make him tow the line. Park, who became a major shareholder of “R” academy in 2007, is the head of a consulting firm as well as an international lawyer. Sohn has since escaped to the United States.

Police say Sohn reports being taken against his will to a villa in Gyeonggi and threatened after he tried to leave the academy last December.

Sohn was the top instructor teaching English composition for the SAT, investigators said. They said they have received confessions from two of the nine people who were allegedly involved in kidnapping Sohn. Investigators are interrogating the remaining seven. Officers are widening their investigations into the case after obtaining information leading to an allegation that more lecturers at the academy were assaulted when they also sought to leave.

Another male instructor from a different academy said people at the R institute confined and assaulted him on Dec. 9 after he disparaged R to others. “We have confirmed the victim’s personal information,” an officer who asked not to be named said. “Since the victim is afraid of retaliation from the institute, we are planning to obtain more information through interviewing him.”

In a phone interview with the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday, Sohn said that several private institutes tutoring for the SAT in southern Seoul are engaged in overheated competition in scouting top lecturers in order to attract as many students as possible. He also said institutes concealed instructors’ true records and lured students via false advertisements.

“Three or four other academies tried to scout me at the time when my contract period with R institute was about to terminate,” Sohn said. “But the institute threatened me not to move to another academy.”

A head of a private academy in the Gangnam area in southern Seoul said, “Sohn was one of the top-10 SAT instructors at SAT academies. As far as I know, he was paid an annual income of some 1 billion won [$852,000].”

Sohn said some lecturers tried to demonstrate their skills by obtaining test questions in advance. “Two other lecturers [Kim and Jang, who were arrested for stealing test questions] are just medium level instructors who wanted to become the top tutors. Star lecturers are so talented that they don’t have to either obtain or leak test questions.”

Sohn added that a number of exam sheets were leaked until 2005 due to weak management in SAT test centers in Korea. There was an organization that sold and delivered test papers to some institutes, said Sohn.

Sohn, who fled to the U.S. after being assaulted, also disclosed two e-mails that he received on March 4 and 13 of last year from a head of R academy surnamed Lee leading to alleged plots in obtaining unreleased SAT test papers from a broker in the U.S.

In the first e-mail, Lee introduced a man who runs an institute in the U.S. established to lecture Korean students to gain admission to U.S. universities, Sohn said. Lee said the man somehow gets all SAT questions and that Lee should travel to the U.S. to meet him.

In the second e-mail, Lee asked Sohn to secretly bargain with the man in the cash-for-questions deal since the man not only has the SAT questions but also those of the U.S.-based Secondary School Admission Test. SSAT is an exam for students looking to enter private high schools in the U.S.

“‘If the man asks for a large sum of money in the deal, let’s lure other SAT lecturers in the [R] institute to make investments in order to get the questions,’” Sohn quoted Lee as saying. “The unreleased SAT questions are exchanged illegally among SAT academies and they are working with many brokers in the U.S. to obtain those questions,” Sohn said.

Police investigating the allegations banned the head of R from overseas travel yesterday.

In an earlier case last month, another lecturer surnamed Kim, 38, from the R academy allegedly obtained SAT test and answer sheets from a Thai test-taker who took the exam in Bangkok, Thailand, on Jan. 24 of last year and then passed them on to two Korean students in the U.S. by taking advantage of the 12-hour time difference between the U.S. and Thailand. Police arrested four suspects, including another 36-year-old instructor surnamed Jang from the same academy, on charges of stealing mathematics and physics questions for the test.


By Song Ji-hye, Lee Min-yong [smartpower@joongang.co.kr]

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