The Korea Herald


Police say suspect in fatal arson likely targeted attorneys after losing lawsuit

By Kim Arin

Published : June 12, 2022 - 17:34

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Forensic officers inspect the scene of arson attack on Friday. (Yonhap) Forensic officers inspect the scene of arson attack on Friday. (Yonhap)

Police believe a man suspected of a fatal arson attack on Thursday in Daegu targeted attorneys on the defense team of the company he was suing in a civil case over a loss of several hundred million won in a real estate investment.

According to the police, the 53-year-old man, who is only known by his surname Chon, brought a civil case against a trust company that was involved in a real estate project he had invested in, which never materialized. His investment is estimated to have totaled some 680 million won, around 150 million won of which he got back.

Chon’s yearslong court battle began with a 2013 case, in which he won against the project’s developer but did not receive his money back. In 2020, he filed another case with the same claim against the trust company -- which acted as both fiduciary and co-developer for the project -- but lost. He was in the middle of his appeal proceeding that began in end-2021.

His legal strife didn’t stop there. Just a day earlier on Wednesday, he was also sentenced to a fine of 2 million won for libeling the CEO of the developer that led the real estate project in an online group chat.

At 10:53 a.m. Thursday, Chon set the second floor of a five-story law office building on fire using gasoline, leaving seven dead -- including himself. The six casualties included an attorney with no connection to Chon’s case and five law clerks. Among 50 people who were injured from the fire, 31 were admitted to hospitals. Closed-circuit TV footage that was later revealed shows flames engulfing the entire floor within around 25 seconds after he entered.

On top of the fire-setting Chon is suspected of stabbing at least two people. According to the National Forensic Service’s report Saturday, two of the deceased were found with stab wounds that appear to have been inflicted by a weapon that was discovered at the scene. All seven are believed to have died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the case, including the exact motive.

During his visit to memorial services for the victims on Friday at a Daegu hospital, Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon called the arson “anti-civilization” and “a terrorist act” and promised support for the victims. “I believe that it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that this kind of violence isn’t repeated,” he said.

The judicial community is in shock over Thursday’s attack, calling for measures to prevent a repeat.

“It’s incredible that in this day and age, such ruthless act of terror has taken place in our country,” the Korean Bar Association said in a statement Friday. The association, which represents all licensed attorneys in Korea, said crimes against attorneys representing the other party were “dangers to the rule of law and to the delivery of justice.”

By Kim Arin (