Probe into Jung widens to include senior judge

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Probe into Jung widens to include senior judge

The prosecution probe into the web of bribery and lobbying by Jung Woon-ho, the former CEO of Nature Republic imprisoned for illegal gambling, is now targeting a senior judge.

The judge, surnamed Kim, is accused of receiving bribes worth some 50 million won ($45,755) in return for lobbying on behalf of Jung, who was embroiled in an illegal gambling scandal last year followed by a string of additional violence and lobbying charges this year.

According to prosecutors, Jung sold Kim his Range Rover SUV for 50 million won in 2014. Kim reportedly said the sale was a legal one, without any bribes or lobbying favors returned.

But prosecutors have found evidence that Jung may have returned the 50 million won to Kim last year when Jung’s first trial was ongoing. Jung and Kim are reportedly good friends and have even gone on a trip to Vietnam together.

The prosecution also reportedly secured evidence that some five to six checks, each worth 1 million won and issued in Jung’s name, were transferred to a bank account belonging to Kim’s relative.

Reports say that a plastic surgery hospital director surnamed Lee, who has already been arrested under charges of accepting bribes from Jung, may have been the middleman in transferring the checks to Kim. He is also suspected of being the middleman in transferring the 50 million won from Jung to Kim last year.

Lee was arrested Monday, and is accused of accepting some 100 million won from Jung in return for lobbying on behalf of him.

It is expected that Kim will soon be summoned by the prosecutors for questioning, and that more senior judges will be probed.

Investigations into Jung began after the Korean Bar Association (KBA) in May called upon local prosecutors to investigate Jung on allegations of lobbying a myriad of people in the legal profession.

Jung was arrested last October for betting over 10 billion won in illegal poolrooms, including those in the Philippines and Macau, from March 2012 to October 2014. His first trial sentenced him to up to a year in prison. The appellate court reduced his sentence to eight months, which the KBA suspects was the result of lobbying.

Choi You-jeong, a lawyer, has been accused of accepting bribes from Jung worth some 5 billion won. Jung’s broker, Lee Min-hee, who reportedly received some 900 million won from Jung, turned himself in to authorities. Also, prosecutor-turned lawyer Hong Man-pyo has been accused of taking some 500 million won from Jung.

The prosecution’s probe even spilled over to the Lotte Group founder’s eldest daughter Shin Young-ja, who is accused of receiving some 1.5 billion won from Jung.

Another senior judge surnamed Im reportedly had dinner at an extravagant restaurant with Lee Min-hee last year, and the prosecution is reportedly investigating whether Im received any bribes from Jung. Im tendered his resignation in May when the news broke, though he denied accepting any bribes from Jung or Lee Min-hee.

BY OH I-SEOK, SONG SEUNG-HWAN AND ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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