Mysteries in a very murky caseFormer ruling Democratic Party (DP) lawmaker Lee Sang-jik is serving a six-year sentence for having embezzled money from Eastar Jet, a budget carrier he founded. As many as 600 workers laid off by the airliner did not receive wages or severance pay worth 60 billion won ($48 million). Yet Lee and his family lived a luxurious life through a corporate credit card and leased a foreign-brand car.
Lee is known for his involvement in the discreet move by the family of the daughter of President Moon Jae-in to Thailand in 2018. Moon’s son-in-law, surnamed Seo, was recruited for a senior position at Thai Eastar Jet with the recommendation and a guarantee by Eastar Jet in Korea. The son-in-law worked as an executive director for Thai Eastar Jet for two years, even though his English was poor. Despite Lee’s denial, he could have helped arrange the move by the family of Moon’s daughter to Thailand, as the Thai carrier had been established as a joint venture between Thai investors and Korea’s Eastar Jet.
Lee was appointed to a presidential job committee after Moon was inaugurated in 2017. In 2018, he headed the Korea SMEs and Startups Agency. In 2020, Lee won a ticket from the ruling party to run in Jeonju, a traditional voting base for the liberal party, and easily got elected. How Lee could have enjoyed such privileges naturally raises questions.
The labor union of Eastar Jet and the opposition People Power Party (PPP) last year filed criminal complaints over suspicion related to the Eastar Jet case. But prosecutors sat on the case. According to JoonAng Ilbo, Thai Eastar Jet CEO Park Seok-ho was investigated by the Jeonju District Prosecutors’ Office last week where he had handed in a 2-gigabyte file. The prosecution plans to expand an investigation on Seo, the son-in-law of the president, and Lee based on the evidence.
Before being summoned to the prosecution for questioning, Park, the CEO of Thai Eastar Jet, is said to have asked people with access to the imprisoned Lee to deliver the news that he faced an investigation. Although Thai Eastar Jet has not been operating over the last two years, it still runs an office in Thailand and pays over 9 million won in monthly rent.
The family of the president’s daughter discreetly returned home after moving to Thailand. How the son-in-law was able to land a senior post in an airline without any experience in aviation remains a mystery. Prosecutors must clear up the mystery even after Moon finishes his term.