Park aide is questioned on Nexon property deal

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Park aide is questioned on Nexon property deal

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Woo Byung-woo

Woo Byung-woo, the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, is now being questioned on whether he received favors from Jin Kyung-joon, the senior prosecutor mired in a major bribery scandal, for the sale of Woo’s family real estate to Nexon in 2011.

Woo’s wife and sisters-in-law inherited some real estate near Gangnam Station from their father in 2008.

They registered it for sale, but their attempt was reportedly unsuccessful until Nexon bought it in 2011 for about 132.5 billion won ($116.4 million).

According to the Chosun Ilbo, the sale was allegedly a godsend for Woo and his family, because they were looking to sell the real estate in order to pay some 50 billion won in inheritance taxes.

While Woo claims he has no relations with Nexon co-founder Kim Jung-ju, Woo and Jin are reportedly close acquaintances, having attended Seoul National University Law School together. Jin has also been reported to be college chums with Nexon’s Kim.

When the paper on Monday questioned Woo’s friendship with Jin and the possible influence it had in the sale of his family’s real estate to Nexon, Woo immediately released a statement denying the allegations.

“It’s not true at all,” he said in his statement. “The real estate was sold via ordinary procedures at a real estate agency. A lot of agencies came to my wife’s family at the time, saying conglomerates or real estate developers wanted to buy it.

After the sale was successful, my wife’s family paid about 1 billion won in fees to the agency.

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Jin Kyung-joon

“The news made it sound like I asked Nexon via Jin Kyung-joon to buy the real estate, but this is a complete distortion of facts,” Woo added.

“I have never met Nexon’s Kim Jung-ju in my life and have never spoken with him, even on the phone. And I have no acquaintance with anyone working at Nexon.”

But he admitted his wife and family tried to sell the real estate in order to pay the inheritance taxes.

“They paid more than 100 billion won in taxes for the inheritance at the time, but still had to pay some tens of billions of won,” Woo said, “so that’s why they decided to sell the real estate.”

Still, Woo is being questioned by the media and legal circles on whether he, having received alleged favors from Jin, had turned a blind eye to Jin’s possession of Nexon shares when Woo did a security check on Jin in early 2015.

Woo, as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, is in charge of inspection and examination of financial records and holdings of senior prosecutors prior to their promotions.

“The Chosun Ilbo is questioning whether I had turned a blind eye to Jin’s shares of Nexon in that inspection process,” Woo said. “This accusation is absolutely groundless, and I will sue the paper through the Press Arbitration Commission, and press for criminal prosecution and file a civil lawsuit for its false reporting.”

Nexon also claimed that the sale was made through normal procedures.

After buying the real estate, Nexon sold it in a year to RealK Project Financing Vehicle Company.

The prosecution team of Chief Prosecutor Lee Keum-ro of the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office has not yet said whether it will focus its ongoing investigation on this new lead. Lee was assigned by the prosecutor general to investigate Jin earlier this month.

Ever since the Government Public Ethics Committee in March exposed Jin’s sale of his Nexon shares, a prosecution probe into Jin has thus far revealed that he raked in nearly 12 billion won from the sale without having invested his money.

An investigation into his friend and Nexon co-founder Kim Jung-ju revealed that Kim gave Jin the money to buy the Nexon shares in 2005.

In addition to the Nexon case, Jin faces a barrage of bribery charges including several involving Hanjin Group, which runs the nation’s largest air carrier, Korean Air.

He is currently detained by prosecutors and is the first director-level official of the prosecution to ever be detained in its nearly seven decades of history.

Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong apologized at the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee on Monday over Jin’s disgraceful demeanor as a prosecutor.

Prosecutor General Kim Soo-nam also apologized on Monday at a meeting of senior prosecutors.

BY SHIN YONG-HO, OH I-SEOK [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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