CJ heir apparent caught at airport with cannabis cartridges

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CJ heir apparent caught at airport with cannabis cartridges

The heir apparent to CJ Group, one of Korea’s largest food and entertainment conglomerates, was charged with attempting to smuggle narcotics into the country on a flight from the United States on Sunday.

Incheon prosecutors said Lee Sun-ho, the only son of CJ Group Chairman Lee Jay-hyun, flew into Incheon International Airport on Sunday carrying several dozen cartridges of liquid THC, a cannabis product that is vaped from an e-cigarette.

Customs officers checking passengers’ baggage discovered the drugs in Lee’s checked bags. Lee was subjected to a drug test, and traces of THC were found in his urine. He was booked for illegal drug use and possession, a prosecutor said, and released on his own recognizance.

Lee, 29, is the latest chaebol scion to have trouble with the law over THC. In April, the grandson of Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung was arrested at Incheon airport for having drugs, while Chey Yong-geun, the eldest grandson of SK Group’s founder, is currently in police custody awaiting trial on a similar charge.

Both cases involved liquid THC, which has been linked to a recent outbreak of unexplained vaping-related illnesses and deaths in the United States.

Considerably less pungent and therefore more concealable than its plant form, liquid THC is the extract of the psychoactive substance found in marijuana, which is dissolved in solvents like oils. The liquids are stored in small cartridges to be smoked through a vaping device like an electronic cigarette, the same way nicotine cartridges are.

Analysts believe the ease of concealing this relatively new variety of illegal drugs is leading to more narcotics smuggling into Korea, where there is little legal tolerance for illegal substances.

Lee Sun-ho graduated from Columbia University in New York with a degree in finance and entered CJ CheilJedang in 2013. He is currently a manager at the company’s BIO department, which manufactures synthetic food ingredients like MSG.

He married former skyTV announcer Lee Da-hee in a secret wedding last October, two years after his first wife died of unknown causes at one of their residences in the U.S. state of Connecticut.

Unlike Chung and Chey, who are chaebol scions but not on branches directly linked to the conglomerates’ top management, Lee Sun-ho is the heir apparent of CJ Group. His father is the eldest grandson of Samsung’s founder Lee Byung-chul.

Given the highly exclusive nature of the families controlling Korea’s chaebol, Lee Sun-ho’s illegal drug charges could cast a shadow over CJ’s future as the company works to realize its so called “Great CJ Plan 2020” to post 100 trillion won ($82.6 billion) in corporate revenues by next year.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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