NATIONAL

‘Gambling celebrity’ back in Korea to face the music

By 신혜인
  • Published : Jan 19, 2011 - 18:33
  • Updated : Jan 19, 2011 - 18:33
Disgraced TV celebrity Shin Jung-hwan returned to Korea on Wednesday to face investigations at home into allegations he gambled away hundreds of millions of won in the Philippines last year.

Setting foot in his homeland for the first time in more than five months, the troubled 36-year-old admitted the illegal gambling charges.

“I am ready for punishment. Please punish me harshly,” the singer-turned-comedian said, bending down low before the reporters and cameramen who had been awaiting his arrival at Gimpo Airport, just outside of Seoul.

Shin had stayed abroad for months, keeping his whereabouts hidden in an apparent attempt to avoid a police probe and criticism from fans. 
TV celebrity Shin Jung-hwan speaks to reporters and cameramen as he enters the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency on Wednesday for interrogation over illegal gambling charges. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

The foreign exchange law prohibits tourists from carrying more than $10,000 while traveling overseas. Shin, who already had a history of gambling problems, is believed to have illegally exchanged money in the Philippines.

Taking Shin to the station straight from the airport, the Seoul Metropolitan Police said they will question Shin on how long he stayed in the Philippines, how much he spent on gambling and how he acquired such a large amount of money overseas.

Police began looking into his case in September last year, after a South Korean man sued the once-popular TV personality for putting up his passport as collateral for his gambling debt. Shin is believed to have borrowed a large amount of money from a local moneylender in the Philippines.

Several eyewitnesses said they saw Shin playing Baccarat at W hotel casino in Cebu in the Philippines last August.

Shin, who had been emceeing several popular TV shows here before going to Cebu, lost credibility after lying that he was only lengthening his stay due to dengue fever, rampant in the region.

Media reports and Internet users revealed that the photograph of Shin lying in a hospital bed was fabricated, citing doctors’ comments and the normal fever symptoms Shin’s body did not show.

Shin has been refusing to return to Korean since then, ignoring repeated calls from the police, who later asked for help from Interpol to trace his whereabouts.

This is not the first time that Shin has been embroiled in gambling-related troubles.

In 2005, he was slapped with fines for gambling at a foreigner-only casino here and as recently as last year, Shin was sued for a 170 million won ($161,000) unpaid gambling debt that he incurred while playing games in a locals-only casino in Gangwon Province.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)