Middleman in Nature Republic case indicted

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Middleman in Nature Republic case indicted

Prosecutors indicted lawyer Hong Man-pyo, 57, Monday for tax evasion and violation of the domestic Attorney-at-Law Act. But Hong was not indicted for bribing prosecutors as previously suspected since no irregularities were found when around 20 prosecutors were investigated, the prosecution said.

Hong was suspected of having received 300 million won ($258,400) of illegal attorney fees in August last year from Nature Republic CEO Jung Woon-ho, 51, who is serving a prison term for gambling illegally overseas. He is also suspected of bribery of key figures in legal circles to reduce his sentence.

According to prosecutors, Hong received the money under the pretext of “lobbying associates at Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office [for Jeong’s gambling case].”

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.

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.

A spokesman said that the authorities had considered “Jeong’s 200 million won donation to fight gambling addiction and his cooperation in the investigation of the Lotte Scholarship Foundation executive director Shin Young-ja,” with whom he is embroiled in another lobbying scandal for a contract with the Lotte Duty Free Store.

The prosecution also said it is tracking the accounts of some of its own colleagues to determine whether they had received illicit funds from Jeong. Hong is also accused of having received another 200 million won from Jeong back in September 2011 to lobby senior members of Seoul Metro for Nature Republic’s subway store contract. He is also suspected of evading around 1.53 billion won in taxes over September to December in the year.

Meanwhile, Lee Dong-chan, 44, who was arrested on Saturday for allegedly brokering illicit dealings between Jeong and his associates in legal circles, finally agreed to cooperate with investigators Monday afternoon.

BY SUH POK-HYUN, JANG HYUK JIN [lee.dongeun@joongang.co.kr]
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