Old money a new twist in investigation of Chun

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Old money a new twist in investigation of Chun


An old 10,000 won note before the design change in 2007

Former employees of Chun Jae-kook, eldest son of former President Chun Doo Hwan, said their boss used to own a large quantity of old 10,000 won ($8.90) notes. They told the JoongAng Sunday that the eldest son often used the old notes for his businesses and daily expenses, like tips at restaurants.

Ten-thousand won notes issued prior to Jan. 20, 1994, have images of King Sejong the Great (1397-1450) and Jagyeokru, an advanced water clock created by Joseon-era scientist Jang Yeon-sil in 1434. They were issued with silver dotted lines down the middle to deter counterfeiting. On Jan. 22, 2007, they reduced the dimensions of the bills.

“I received a bonus from the son in 2005, all in old 10,000 won bills,” a former official of Sigongsa, a publishing company owned by the eldest son, told the JoongAng Sunday, on condition of anonymity. “But the bills were different than the bills in use at the time [older than the 1994 version]. They were musty, as if they had been kept in some kind of storage for a long time.”

Starting with a surprise raid on the former president’s home last Tuesday, a special team from the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office has stepped up efforts to uncover hidden assets of Chun to collect fines imposed on him in the 1990s. His eldest son has become a prime target.

The former president was convicted in 1997 of accepting bribes and running slush funds during his presidency. He was ordered to pay 220.5 billion won in fines. The investigation team confiscated artworks from storage Thursday at Sigongsa, the eldest son’s publishing company in Paju, northern Gyeonggi.

“The son also paid the company’s operating expenses of tens of millions of won monthly with old 10,000 won notes,” another former official of the publishing company told the JoongAng Ilbo. “A massive amount of old 10,000 won notes were stored secretly near the company’s Seocho-dong office in southern Seoul.”

Since prior to 2005, it has been rumored in the publishing industry that Sigongsa used old 10,000 won notes in their businesses. “The son and his families, including the former president, gave tips to waiters with old bills,” an employee of a Korean restaurant in Gangnam, southern Seoul, told the JoongAng Sunday. “They rolled the bills up with a rubber band and took some of them out when they needed them.”

“We receive a tax audit every five years,” said a Sigongsa spokesman. “We never managed such old bills.”

The old bills became a byword for underground economy since the financial system was strengthened in 1993. There had been a rumor in the country’s Myeong-dong private loan market that massive amounts of illegal funds created from the underground economy were changed into the old bills through private lenders just before the new system took effect.

Prosecutors recently discovered some places suspected of being used by the eldest son for managing the family’s secret funds. One of the places is a storage space in Paju owned by Sigongsa. Prosecutors collected about 280 pieces of art, including some sculptures.

Also last Thursday, prosecutors found a two-story building behind Herb Village in Yeoncheon, northern Gyeonggi. They said Herb Village is a private recreational facility owned by the eldest son and includes a two-story building that is Jae-kook’s private office. They found about 220 additional art pieces including works by Francis Bacon, an Irish-born British figurative painter.

“A very limited number of people had access to the office in Herb Village,” said a Sigongsa official. “Almost no one knows what is kept in there.”

BY NOH JIN-HO, LEE SEUNG-NYEONG [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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