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[Newsmaker] Chun’s in-law may hold key to assets

Lee Chang-seok
Lee Chang-seok
Former President Chun Doo-hwan’s brother-in-law, known as one of the key figures who helped him conceal illegally accumulated assets, was questioned by the prosecution on Monday. Lee Chang-seok is the first member of Chun’s family to be summoned by the prosecution looking for the former president’s massive slush funds.

Summoning Lee indicates that the authorities are not only searching for concealed assets but also seeking ways to prosecute Chun and his family, sources say.

The younger brother of former first lady Lee Soon-ja was one family member who fully enjoyed the privileged life while Chun was in the presidential office in the 1980s.

Lee Chang-seok, a mere mechanic, was promoted to vice president of an engineering company right after Chun seized power through a coup in 1980. Three years later, Lee established his own firm that exclusively supplied goods to the then-state-run steelmaker POSCO. The firm grew rapidly, but Lee was soon convicted for embezzling company money and evading taxes.

The prosecution believes that Lee has played a crucial role in handling Chun’s family assets for many years after the military strongman stepped down from the presidential post. Even when Chun served his prison term in the ’90s, Lee remained loyal to his brother-in-law and helped Chun’s four children inherit his hidden assets without paying taxes.

In 2006, Lee sold his property worth at least 30 billion won ($26.9 million) to his nephew Chun Jae-yong at just 2.8 billion won. The junior Chun said he took the land ownership in exchange for helping Lee and his troubled company. It was never confirmed, however, whether Lee’s company was actually in trouble at that time.

Two years later, Jae-yong sold the property to a local construction company at 40 billion won, which helped him reap enormous profits. The president of the construction firm is reportedly one of Lee’s close friends.

In the same year, Lee also had a hand in transferring wealth from former first lady Lee Soon-ja to her daughter Hyo-sun. He took the property previously owned by his sister and sold it to her daughter.

Lee has long been regarded as Chun’s slush fund manager and was summoned by authorities each time the prosecution started an investigation into Chun’s concealed assets. However, the prosecutors had failed to indict him due to a lack of evidence.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)
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