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[Newsmaker] Prosecutors seek 5-year jail term for chef Lee Chan-oh over drug use

Prosecutors on Friday sought a five-year jail sentence for celebrity chef Lee Chan-oh on trial for the possession and use of drugs, according to the Seoul Central District Court.

During the trial, the prosecution cited more concrete evidence from hair testing, which confirmed Lee’s history of drug use.

Famous for his expertise in French cuisine, the chef made headlines when he was indicted without detention on May 10 for inhaling hashish -- a drug made from cannabis -- in October last year. The court had dismissed the prosecutors’ request for an arrest warrant last December, saying the suspect is “unlikely to flee given his residence and occupation.” 

Lee Chan-oh leaves the Seoul Central District Court after the first trial on June 15. (Yonhap)
Lee Chan-oh leaves the Seoul Central District Court after the first trial on June 15. (Yonhap)

Lee initially denied that the drugs were his, but police confirmed the drug use with a urine test. Through the course of investigation, he claimed to have smoked hashish on multiple occasions, but denied smuggling any drugs into the country.

The celebrity claimed to have used hashish during his struggle with depression after divorcing TV entertainer Kim Sae-rom. The two were married in August 2015, but they divorced 1 1/2 years later due to “personality differences,” according to their joint statement.

Lee’s mother, who is working as a psychiatrist, had suggested Lee take hashish instead of anti-depressants. Because the Netherlands allows for smoking cannabis, Lee obtained the drug overseas from an acquaintance and brought it into the country despite knowing it is illegal to do so.

Lee asked the public to forgive his mistakes and vowed to “stay away from drugs,” according to court records.

The court will make its verdict on July 24.

By Catherine Chung (