U.S. bribery case traced back to Seoul

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U.S. bribery case traced back to Seoul

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Monday unveiled an interim report on an ongoing international bribery case involving suspects from the United States and Korea, the first time local authorities have responded to a judicial assistance request from the United States regarding the confiscation of assets.

The case is “significant,” said a prosecutor who requested anonymity, because such requests are often made by Korea to the United States.

The letter of request was reportedly accepted by local prosecutors in July 2013 for a criminal case that dates back 2008.

Investigating officers said on Monday that an American civilian worker with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was bribed by the head of a Korean security network company, surnamed Cho, in hopes of winning a contract to provide its services to the U.S. Army.

The sum offered was around $1 million.

To avoid detection, Cho offered to funnel the illegal funds to the Army employee through one of its Korea-based trading companies, directed by a man surnamed Kim.

Cho sent the money to Kim, whom then spent a portion of it on renting out a coffee shop under the name of the U.S. Army worker’s Korean mistress, surnamed Lee.

Kim then sent Lee rest of the agreed upon amount through the trading company over 10 transactions.

Lee and her boyfriend first met when he came to Korea for a business trip regarding the U.S. military base in Yongsan District, central Seoul, prosecutors said.

The scam went undetected for years, but was eventually discovered in 2011 by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. The U.S. employee was sentenced to six years in prison in September 2013 and is currently serving jail time.

The case was transferred to the prosecution in Korea after its American counterpart realized the funds had mostly been collected here.

After a year-long investigation, Seoul officers announced on Monday that they had secured 679 million won ($619,669), or about half the total amount.

Cho, Kim and Lee were recently charged for concealing illegal funds, prosecutors added, though they have not been detained.

Authorities are currently looking into other assets registered under Lee’s name, which add up to 450 million won.

Whether the money is relevant to the ongoing case has yet to be determined, though officials said that the amount includes a security deposit Lee made to rent out a villa and a leasehold deposit on her Mercedes-Benz.

Action in the case is based on a mutual legal-assistance treaty signed by both countries in 1993.

Under the agreement, both countries vowed to cooperate in gathering and sharing information on criminal matters to better enforce public or criminal laws.

BY PARK MIN-JE, LEE YOO-JEONG [selee@joongang.co.kr]

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