Money trail emerges in probe of top prosecutor

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Money trail emerges in probe of top prosecutor

The Ministry of Justice announced Tuesday that it ordered senior prosecutor Kim Hyung-joon to transfer to the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office as he is investigated on bribery allegations.

“It is inappropriate for a prosecutor to remain dispatched to an external organization when the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office began its inspection,” the ministry said. Kim currently is assigned to the Korea Deposit Insurance Corp.

Kim, 46, is being investigated by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office on suspicions of receiving bribes from a friend who is being investigated for fraud and embezzlement. Kim is also accused of lobbying fellow prosecutors to go easy on the friend.

Kim is suspected of receiving 15 million won ($13,570) from his friend in February and March. The probe into Kim’s friend began in April when he was sued for embezzling 1.5 billion won from his electronic parts retail company and swindling a business partner out of 5 billion won.

Kim and the man accused of embezzlement and fraud are former middle and high school schoolmates.

The friend was interrogated by the Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office in May. During questioning and further investigations, prosecutors found that some of the money Kim’s friend allegedly embezzled went to Kim indirectly.

Prosecutors discovered that the friend had sent 5 million won to an employee of a pub in February and 10 million won to a wife of a lawyer in March, all allegedly on the directions of Kim. “The 5 million won was for the bill on the night our high school alumni got together for drinks,” Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo over the phone on Monday. “I am the president of the alumni club so I had to pay the bill, and I asked my friend to pay for me.”

He added, “The 10 million won was a debt I owed to a lawyer, and my friend paid the lawyer for me at the time. I paid my friend back in full around April 18.”

The friend denied receiving the 15 million won back. “I did not receive the money,” he told reporters at the Seoul Western District Court on Monday. “Some of the money went to Kim’s secret mistress.”

According to text messages exchanged between Kim and his friend, the 5 million won was sent to someone surnamed Gwak, likely a female employee of the pub they frequented.

The implication is that Gwak was Kim’s mistress.

On Feb. 3, Kim sent his friend a text message containing a bank account number in Gwak’s name.

“I sent the 5 million won,” the friend replied to Kim’s text message that day.

“Gwak and I decided to end our relationship today,” Kim wrote his friend on Feb. 28.

But Gwak appears again in text messages in March. “I saw Gwak again after dinner,” Kim wrote to his friend on March 5.

Once prosecutors discovered the money trail leading to Kim, he allegedly requested his friend to hush things up.

“Kim met me when prosecutors began to find out that some of the embezzled money led to him, and asked me to cover up for him,” Kim’s friend said. “He met with other prosecutors in charge of the investigation to cover up his trail. I have recorded our conversation.”

Signs that Kim tried to conceal evidence against him are also found in the text messages.

“If prosecutors ask,” Kim wrote to his friend in a text message after March, “tell them the drinks cost 5 to 6 million won.”

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office reportedly received a report on the case in May but did not start an investigation at its Inspection Headquarters until Friday. It also did not notify the prosecutor general about the case back in May.

In May, the prosecution was being criticized for a bribery scandal involving former senior prosecutor Jin Kyung-joon.

Kim Hyung-joon received an honorary commendation in 2009 from the prosecutor general. He is also a son-in-law of a senior representative from the Saenuri Party.

Kim’s friend went on the lam on Aug. 28, when his pretrial detention warrant hearing was scheduled, and was apprehended in a public sauna in Wonju, Gangwon, on Monday. He showed up at the Seoul Western District Court on Tuesday for his hearing.

BY YOON HO-JIN, HYUN IL-HOON AND ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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