Prosecutors raid Lotte in bribery case investigation

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Prosecutors raid Lotte in bribery case investigation

The prosecutors’ office has broadened its investigation into Nature Republic CEO Jeong Un-ho by raiding Lotte duty-free stores whose director allegedly received bribes from Jeong.

Prosecutors on Thursday sent 100 officials to search Lotte’s duty-free departments and the home of Shin Young-ja, executive director of the Lotte Scholarship Foundation and the older sister of the conglomerate’s chairman, Shin Dong-bin. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said it confiscated computers, store lists, related documents and account books.

“While tracking Shin’s bank account records, we found money sent from Jeong,” said the prosecutor in charge. “We also obtained information that Lotte is trying to cover-up evidence, so we conducted our search in a quick fashion.”

Shin is suspected of receiving about 1.5 billion won ($1.3 million) from Jeong in exchange for putting Nature Republic shops in duty-free stores in central Seoul.

The prosecution found evidence that Jeong delivered kickbacks to Shin Young-ja through her son, Jang Jae-young. The prosecution on Thursday barred Shin and Jang from leaving the country.

Evidence has been secured from Shin’s broker, surnamed Han, who has been arrested. Han attested to the bribery allegation surrounding Jeong and the Lotte executive. Lotte denied the allegations by saying, “Shin knows Han but has never accepted any lobbying money.

“While we will have to look into the confiscated materials,” the lead prosecutor said, “we won’t rule out the possibility of having to summon Shim.”

The prosecution suspects the Lotte duty-free store of accepting bribes from other companies, as well. The bribing practices of Nature Republic’s CEO were brought to light after the controversial ruling in his gambling case. Jeong was indicted three times for gambling abroad but was found not guilty in the first two trials and, after being sentenced to one year in prison in the third trial, his sentence had been shortened to eight months in an appeal court last month.

The controversial ruling raised the question of whether Jeong had paid his lawyer, Hong Man-pyo, to influence prosecutors and one judge.

Other than the previously charged 300 million won illegal fee that Jeong had allegedly given him, Hong was also charged with having accepted another 200 million won from Jeong in 2011 to allegedly bribe Seoul Metro officials to streamline the launching of Nature Republic stores in subway stations.

Prosecutors, who suspect the possibility of more bribing practices by Jeong, have broadened the scope of their investigation. The Seoul Central District Court issued pre-trial detention warrants for both Hong and Jeong. Hong was detained on early Thursday. Jeong, who is to finish his 8-month jail term on Sunday, will immediately be re-detained.

BY SEO BOK-HYEON, JEONG BYUNG-KI [jeong.byungki@joongang.co.kr]

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