Paying through the nose for some final respect

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Paying through the nose for some final respect

Korea’s biggest funeral service company, the Boram Sangjo Group, is under investigation for embezzling money from its bereaved customers.

On Tuesday, Busan District Prosecutors’ Office searched the home of Choi Chul-hong, 52, chairman of the Boram Sangjo Group, in Yongho-dong and arrested his older brother and vice chairman of the company, Choi Hyun-gyu, 62.

Chairman Choi is suspected to have embezzled a total of 10 billion won ($8.8 million) from his customers during the last few years to invest in real estate. He reportedly bought three hotels in Busan using the names of his family members with the money.

Choi is currently in the United States but prosecutors said they plan to ask the U.S. government to extradite him to Korea if the charges become clearer. According to prosecutors, chairman Choi went to the United States with his family this January.

The Boram Sangjo Group currently has around 750,000 customers and conducts an average of 12,000 funerals or related ceremonies per year. Established in 1991, the company advertises itself as a “one-stop funeral service,” for which customers pay monthly payments for future funeral costs. The group has 23 subsidiaries, around 3,000 employees and 300 branches nationwide.

Boram Sanjo is denying the charges. “Last year, we underwent investigations from the tax office and no illegal interactions were found,” said an official at the company who declined to be named. “The chairman is currently in the U.S. for deals in our subsidiary there and the prosecutors are conducting an investigation based on faulty information.”

Yesterday Boram Sanjo posted a notice on its Web site saying that the three hotels mentioned by prosecutors were “not bought under private accounts but under the company’s name” and that the hotels are “being used as funeral-related facilities for customers.”

By Cho Jae-eun, Kim Sang-jin []
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