WKBL star suspected of forging qualifying birth certificate

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WKBL star suspected of forging qualifying birth certificate

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Chelsey Lee of Bucheon KEB Hana Bank, right, blocks a shot attempt by Monique Currie of Incheon Shinhan Bank S-Birds. Lee is accused of forging documents. [YANG GWANG-SAM]

The prosecutors’ office said on Wednesday that Chelsey Lee, an American basketball player in the Women’s Korean Basketball League, is suspected of forging documents that enabled her to play in the league as an overseas Korean.

According to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, Lee fabricated her birth certificate as well as that of her father to play in the WKBL as an overseas Korean. While a WKBL team can have up to two foreign players, a player considered an overseas Korean is not included in the quota. A player who may have been born abroad but has Korean parents or grandparents is considered an overseas Korean and can join the team as such, the league’s rules state.

Lee allegedly submitted a birth certificate for a man who she says is her father but the man doesn’t exist. Also, the certificate itself is in an outdated format. Although the death certificate of Lee’s alleged grandmother is valid, it has been confirmed that the person isn’t related to Lee.

Lee gained stardom this past season in the WKBL playing for Bucheon KEB Hana Bank. Averaging 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, she earned numerous accolades during her debut season in the local league, including the Rookie of the Year title, scoring title, rebound title and field goal title. With the 26-year-old playing center, the Hana Bank team had a solid run in the league, advancing all the way to the finals to finish as the runner-up for the first time in the franchise’s history.

However, even before the probe began, speculations arose surrounding Lee’s documents. Since overseas Koreans are treated the same as domestic players, Hana Bank had the advantage of being able to have three American players in its roster, which without a doubt bolstered the team’s competitiveness. While Lee’s status continued to be questioned, WKBL silenced all the controversies in October, saying that the documents that Lee and Hana Bank submitted were proven to be valid upon examination.

What compelled the prosecutors to begin their investigation was Lee’s request for special naturalization, which was advised by the Korea Basketball Association. The top basketball governing body saw that Lee’s presence in the national team would greatly strengthen the team’s shot at the Olympics. As a result, the basketball body and Lee filed a request for special naturalization to the Ministry of Justice, which became suspicious of fabrication during document review and asked the prosecutors’ office for a detailed investigation.

The unsettling news confounded Hana Bank and WKBL. Immediately after the prosecutors’ statement was released, Hana Bank issued an official, saying if the fabrication of documents is confirmed, then Chang Seung-chul, the owner of the franchise, will assume full responsibility and step down from his post. Hana Bank has already excluded Lee from the list of the registered players submitted last month to the WKBL, suspended her contract renewal and placed her on a restricted list. “We will impose stern legal measures in the future against Lee and her agents,” said the team.

WKBL also made a public apology regarding the issue. “We apologize for disappointing the basketball fans,” WKBL said in its statement. “We will cooperate until the court makes its final ruling.” It also promised to punish anyone who has damaged the public’s confidence in the league.

“We will also make our document screening process stricter and convene board of directors to review the rules about overseas Koreans,” WKBL added.

BY KIM JI-HAN, CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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