South Korean prosecutors are seeking to arrest Ahn Seong-hyun, a former professional golfer, and Lee Sang-jun, the CEO of Bithumb Holdings, one of the leading crypto exchanges in the country. The Financial Investigation Department of the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office has requested the arrest of the two individuals on suspicion of listing tokens on the exchange in exchange for bribes.
Ahn Seong-hyun, 42, turned professional in 2005 and later became a coach for South Korea’s national golf team. He gained fame in 2017 when he married Sung Yu-ri, a popular K-pop star and actress. However, earlier this year, prosecutors initiated an arrest bid against Ahn. They believe he abused his friendship with Kang Jong-hyun, an alleged majority “owner” of Bithumb, to convince him to list an undisclosed domestic coin on the exchange. It is alleged that Ahn accepted a bribe from the coin’s issuer and then persuaded Kang to push for its listing.
Lee Sang-jun, the CEO of Bithumb Holdings, is accused of receiving illegal payments from Kang Jong-hyun to facilitate the listing of the token. It is reported that Kang paid Lee a total of $3.8 million between 2021 and 2022. As the investigation unfolds, Lee’s alleged involvement in the bribery scheme will be subject to further scrutiny.
Since April, prosecutors have been attempting to obtain an arrest warrant for Ahn Seong-hyun but have faced numerous obstacles in their efforts. The complexity of the case and the resistance encountered highlight the challenges faced by the authorities in prosecuting individuals involved in white-collar crimes.
Ahn Seong-hyun and Lee Sang-jun will appear at a warrant review hearing on the afternoon of September 1 at a branch of the Seoul Southern District Court. The hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with their arrest and further legal actions.
Bithumb’s ownership structure has come under public scrutiny since Dispatch, a South Korean media outlet, published an exposé on Kang Jong-hyun last year. The article raised questions about the transparency and integrity of the exchange, leading to increased regulatory attention. The investigation into alleged bribes-for-coin listing at Bithumb and its rivals, including Coinone, highlights the ongoing efforts to ensure fair practices within the crypto industry in South Korea.
The arrest warrant sought by South Korean prosecutors against the ex-pro golfer and Bithumb’s CEO signifies a significant step in the investigation into bribery allegations. The case sheds light on the potential misconduct within the crypto exchange industry and the challenges faced by authorities in uncovering and prosecuting such activities. The forthcoming warrant review hearing will provide further insights into the evidence and legal actions that will follow.