Runaway broker turns himself in

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Runaway broker turns himself in

Prosecutors arrested on Friday Lee Min-hee, the man who has been on the run from authorities since January under charges of lobbying public officials on behalf of the CEO of Nature Republic, currently imprisoned for gambling abroad.

The 56-year-old broker turned himself in on Friday, after running out of money, according to authorities. He told them he has been hiding in motels and public bathhouses in Hanam and Namyangju of Gyeonggi. He reportedly had nothing on him at the time of arrest other than a water bottle.

Prosecutors announced on Sunday that they will press for an arrest warrant under charges of bribery and fraud.

They also found that Lee was in constant contact throughout his four-month run with a lawyer who defended the Nature Republic CEO.

The lawyer, Hong Man-pyo, also faces charges of receiving unreported legal fees from the CEO of Nature Republic, Jung Woon-ho. Hong defended Jeong three times at court, and two of those times Jeong was found not guilty for gambling abroad; the third time, Jeong was sentenced to one year of imprisonment, but his sentence was reduced to eight months in a plea trial last month. Critics, including the Korean Bar Association, called for a special investigation after this verdict, saying the shortened jail term may have been influenced by his acquaintances, who were either directly funded by Jeong or influenced to make decisions that would benefit him.

Jeong gambled in illegal poolrooms in the Philippines and Macau from March 2012 to October 2014, and was arrested last October for betting some 10 billion won ($8.4 million). He is scheduled to be released in August.

Lee faces a colorful list of charges.

First of all, he is suspected to have lobbied public officials, including a judge, for a favorable verdict on Jeong when he was in a plea trial. Lee also received some 900 million won from Jeong, promising to lobby officials of Seoul Metro to help expand the cosmetic company’s metro shops.

“I used the 900 million won on entertainment,” Lee told prosecutors, denying that he used the money to lobby officials.

Lee is also suspected to have received procurement fees from Hong for introducing him to the CEO of Nature Republic. Receiving fees for introduction to cases is illegal under the Attorney-At-Law Act.

Also, he allegedly did not return some 300 million won to a singer after borrowing the money, as well as some 80 million won he borrowed from a business man.

Prosecutors will be investigating whether Lee lobbied any other public officials on behalf of Jeong.

BY SEO BOK-HYEON, OH I-SEOK [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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