Key arrest made in probe of cosmetics executive

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Key arrest made in probe of cosmetics executive

A key figure in the ongoing investigation of Nature Republic CEO Jung Woon-ho on bribery charges has been arrested over the weekend in Namyangju, Gyeonggi.

Prosecutors said Sunday that the arrest was made Saturday night at a coffee shop in Namyangju, 27 kilometers (17 miles) east of Seoul, after someone called the police to report seeing someone on the police’s “most wanted” list in the establishment.

That man turned out to be 44-year-old Lee Dong-chan, who is suspected of having worked as a broker between Jeong and his associates in the legal circle, funneling colossal amounts of money in return for favorable rulings.

Authorities had been tracking him down, believing he had essential evidence in Jeong’s case. Their request for a detention warrant for Lee could come as early as today, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said.

The prosecution’s recent investigation into Jeong began after the influential Korean Bar Association (KBA) asked authorities to investigate the CEO of the popular cosmetics brand on allegations he had spent at least 5 billion won ($4.27 million) lobbying key legal figures related to controversial rulings in an earlier conviction for gambling overseas.

Around 10 people including a prosecutor, judge and lawyer were mentioned as key subjects for questioning, all of whom allegedly received money from Jeong, according to the KBA.

Jeong was arrested last October for betting over 10 billion won in illegal poolrooms in the Philippines and Macau between March 2012 and October 2014.

In his first trial, the 52-year-old businessman was given up to a year in prison. He appealed, and the sentence was reduced to eights months at his second trial.

Jeong is currently serving his sentence. He is scheduled to be released in August.

When the 52-year-old businessman’s sentence was reduced, the appellate court cited Jeong’s repentance for his misdeeds and his large donations to organizations working to fight gambling addiction.

The KBA, however, doubts the legitimacy of Jeong’s reduced jail term and claim that several shady deals appear to have taken place, prompting the prosecution to reinvestigate the case from the beginning.

Lee, who was arrested Saturday night, used to work as an executive for a local investment advisory group and is suspected of having been close with a female lawyer who was recently arrested for allegedly accepting at least 5 billion won in bribes from Jeong, which she used in part to influence prosecutors and judges on his behalf.

The accusation, if proven to be true, would be a violation of the domestic Attorney-at-Law Act, which carries a jail term of up to five years or a fine up to 30 million won.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JANG HYUK-JIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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