Illicit civilian assets next prosecutor target

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Illicit civilian assets next prosecutor target

The so-called Chun Doo Hwan Act, which allows authorities to go after unpaid fines by government officials, will be extended to cover civilians suspected of hiding assets under other people’s names.

The Ministry of Justice announced Tuesday it will seek to strengthen the current law on confiscation of assets of civilians who have not paid criminal fines.

“Over the past five years, the government has imposed fines amounting to 474.7 billion won [$424.3 million],” said the ministry in a press release Tuesday, “and less than one percent has been collected.”

The new legislation will allow the government to confiscate assets not only of the person fined but also family members or associates who acquired wealth from the individual and knew it came from illegal sources.

Assets held by a defaulter on a fine found in bank accounts with phony names are also subject to seizure.

“We have been aware of many cases in which people with outstanding fines have siphoned their assets into bank accounts under different names and led a luxurious lifestyle,” said Lee Sun-wook, director of the international criminal division at the Ministry of Justice.

“The ministry has been frustrated by the lack of legal measures to go after those hidden assets.”

In June, the National Assembly passed the Act on Confiscation Regarding Crimes Committed by Civil Servants by an overwhelming 227 to 2 vote.

Since its passing, prosecutors have come down hard on the family of former strongman Chun, trying to find enough of his hidden wealth to cover the 167.2 billion won balance on a 1997 fine for corruption.

Chun’s brother-in-law, Lee Chang-seok, was detained Monday for tax evasion, the first of Chun’s relatives to be locked up.

If the Ministry of Justice gets similar powers to go after nongovernment servants, their first target is likely to be Kim Woo-choong, founder and former chairman of the now-disbanded Daewoo Group.

Kim was slammed with a 17.9 trillion won fine in 2002 for convictions on multiple charges including embezzlement and fraud. So far, Kim has only paid 84 billion won.

There have been reports that Kim’s third-oldest son Sun-yong has made a fortune worth tens of billions of won from investments in Vietnam. If the law is revised, the government will be able to go after Sun-yong’s assets if it is proved that his investment funds came from his father’s pocket.

During a 60-day pre-announcement period, the proposed revision to the law will be subject to public comment.

“We aim to submit the bill to the National Assembly some time in November,” said an official at the Ministry of Justice.


BY KANG JIN-KYU, CHOI HYEON-CHUL [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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