Bail for founder of Jeolla college irks prosecutors

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Bail for founder of Jeolla college irks prosecutors

A decision by a Suncheon court in South Jeolla to grant bail to Lee Hong-ha, founder of the embattled Seonam University in North Jeolla who is convicted of embezzling school funds over 100 billion won ($92.2 million), has sparked criticism in academic and legal circles.

In response to the decision to grant bail to the 75-year-old embezzler due to health conditions on Feb. 6 by the Suncheon branch of the Gwangju District Court, the prosecutors filed for a bail suspension on Wednesday, a rare move for prosecutors.

In charge of 13 educational institutions, including six universities, the infamous Lee was indicted on charges of pocketing 100.4 billion won from school funds with three other accomplices.

The chairmen of Seonam and Shingyeong universities, both of which Lee founded, are among the three.

The court also released the three on bail last week, provoking a backlash from civic groups as well as within college communities.

In filing for the suspension, the prosecutors at the Suncheon branch office of the Gwangju District Prosecutors’ Office claimed Lee should be put behind bars as he applied for the bail claiming he needed to receive heart surgery, which he had following the release last week.

The surgical operation requires a week of hospitalization.

“There is a high possibility that the released Lee may attempt to destroy evidence,” said a prosecutor involved in the case, who asked his name not be disclosed.

“The court let a defendant walk away who was healthy enough to do push-ups in jail.”

The prosecution indicated they will appeal to a higher court if the local branch court rejects their request.

The dubious court decision surrounding the controversial Lee this year is not the first of its kind. And the nature of the controversial rulings has often been said to be linked to Lee’s wide personal network spanning legal and political circles.

A former high school biology teacher in the Jeolla region, Lee began his education enterprise business in 1977 and has been charged with embezzlement of school funds multiple times. But the former teacher always found a way out of serving prison term.

When Lee was first indicted in 1998 for pocketing school funds amounting to 40.9 billion won, he was released on bail, citing poor health. Two months after Lee received a suspended jail term of two years, he was granted amnesty by then Justice Minister Park Sang-cheon. Park went to the same elementary school as Lee. The local judge who granted bail for Lee last week is reportedly a friend of Lee’s son-in-law, who is also a judge at the Seoul Appellate Court.


By Kang Jin-kyu, Choi Kyung-ho [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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