Notorious Korean con artist confirmed dead after 5 years

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Notorious Korean con artist confirmed dead after 5 years

The Daegu District Prosecutors’ Office confirmed on Tuesday the death of Korea’s most notorious con artist, Cho Hee-pal, who defrauded about 70,000 people out of about 5 trillion won ($4.25 billion) from 2006 to 2008.

Kim Ju-won, the prosecutor in charge of the case, said that after drinking some liquor with his mistress in a karaoke bar in the city of Weihai in Shandong Province, China, Cho collapsed in his hotel room on Dec. 18, 2011. He was brought to a nearby hospital but died of acute myocardial infraction two days later.

In December 2011, police announced Cho’s death and released a video of his funeral as well as the cremation of his body. Many of the tens of thousands of victims, who were never compensated, claimed Cho’s death had been staged.

The claim gained credibility when it was revealed that police had failed to identify the DNA of the body and that Cho had close ties with local police.

The prosecution took over the investigation in 2014, reporting that the statements of 14 people who attended Cho’s funeral, including his mistresses, family members and acquaintances, all passed lie detector tests.

The prosecutor also said that the Chinese doctor, who was in charge of Cho right up until his death, also confirmed his death. The National Forensic Service also examined the DNA collected from the body and announced that it matched with that of Cho and that the video of his funeral was indeed authentic. Some of Cho’s victims, however, refused to believe the prosecution’s announcement.

The prosecution also indicted without arrest two gangsters, who extorted some 40 billion won in 2008 from Cho on the condition that the money be sent to police officers to avoid Cho getting into trouble.

“There was no evidence found that the money was sent to police officers,” the prosecutor said. “It was found that most of the money was spent for personal use.”

During the investigation, the prosecution indicted 71 people. After the conclusion of the investigation, the indictments of five people were suspended, including those of Cho’s wife and his right-hand man, Kang Tae-young, 55.

In 2004, Cho founded the Big Mountain Company with Kang in Dong District, Daegu. According to what victims were told, the company supplied medical machines to hospitals and bathing houses. From June 2006 to October 2008, Cho siphoned about 5.07 trillion won by scamming some 70,000 people.

As the police investigation accelerated in December 2008, Cho boarded a ship in Taean County, South Chungcheong, and fled to China.

A total of eight officials, including police and prosecution, have so far been punished for aiding Cho.

BY KIM YOUN-HO, SHIN SOO-YEON [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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