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Children’s wealth focus of hunt for Chun’s assets

Investigators remove a Buddha statue from Herb Village, a business owned by former President Chun Doo-hwan’s oldest son, in Gyeonggi Province on Monday. (Yonhap News)
Investigators remove a Buddha statue from Herb Village, a business owned by former President Chun Doo-hwan’s oldest son, in Gyeonggi Province on Monday. (Yonhap News)

The investigators looking into former President Chun Doo-hwan’s hidden assets raided 13 additional locations including the homes of his relatives on Wednesday.

The locations raided on Wednesday include a company connected to the publishing firm Shigongsa, which is operated by Chun’s eldest son Chun Jae-kook, and 12 residential properties owned by Chun’s relatives and associates.

According to sources, the raids were prompted by circumstantial evidence that Chun has been managing his assets under names of relatives and associates.

On the second day of raids, the prosecution also began analyzing material seized from the former president’s relatives on Tuesday, giving momentum to the efforts at collecting outstanding fines from Chun.

In 1997, Chun was sentenced to life in prison and ordered to pay 220.5 billion won ($196.4 million) in penalties for leading an insurrection and accepting bribes while he was in power from 1980 to 1987. Of the total, 167.2 billion won remains outstanding.

On Tuesday, prosecution and National Tax Service investigators raided 18 locations including Chun’s home and the businesses owned by his sons to seize property and financial records.

Around 200 pieces of art work including paintings, pottery and Buddhist sculptures were seized. Most of the items were found at the homes of Chun’s relatives, but those raiding the former president’s home are said to have found seven or eight items, including a piece by Lee Dae-won with an estimated value of about 100 million won.

While it remains to be seen whether the Chun family’s current wealth stemmed from the former president’s slush funds, all four of his children are reported to hold large assets.

In addition to Shigongsa, Chun Jae-kook operates Herb Village, a herb farm and holiday facility in Gyeonggi Province. Shigongsa recorded sales of about 44 billion won last year, and holds real estate properties with a combined value of about 30 billion won. The herb farm is also estimated to be worth 17 billion won.

Chun Jae-kook has also been shown to have established a paper company in the British Virgin Islands, into which a part of the former president’s slush funds is suspected to have been invested.

Chun Jae-yong, Chun’s second son, is estimated to be worth about 90 billion won while the youngest Chun Jae-man owns several buildings in central Seoul worth more than 12 billion won.

While the political parties have expressed general approval of the developments, the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic Party have shown varied responses.

The DP has highlighted its role in revising related laws that will give the authorities more power in confiscating Chun’s assets, while not missing out on the opportunity to criticize the prosecution.

“Fortunately the parliament passed the ‘Chun Doo-hwan act’ which the DP proposed, extending the statute of limitation until 2020,” DP spokesman Rep. Kim Kwan-young told reporters, saying that the timing of prosecution’s decision to form a special team raised doubts about its will to collect the fines. The team heading the investigation into Chun’s assets was formed in May. At the time, five months remained to collect the fines. 

“It is hoped that (the prosecutors’ office) will execute the law properly this time around. All possible measures should be deployed to find and seize all hidden assets.”

The Saenuri Party on the other hand, has chosen to focus on the timing of the renewed efforts.

“The fact that the Park Geun-hye government is pushing ahead on something past administrations have failed to resolve must be welcomed,” Saenuri Party floor spokesman Rep. Kim Tae-heum said Tuesday.

By Choi He-suk (