‘Billionaire backers’ Kim Jong-kook, Jang Jeong-seok deny charges in first court filing

Former Kia Tigers manager Kim Jong-kook (51) and former team manager Jang Jeong-seok (51), who are accused of accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in kickbacks from sponsors, have denied all charges in their first court filing.

According to News1 and Newsis, the Seoul Central District Court’s Criminal Division 21 (Deputy Chief Judge Heo Kyung-moo) held the first trial date for Kim, Jang, and a coffee company representative, A., who are accused of embezzlement and other charges.

Kim is accused of receiving 60 million won ($60,000) in July 2022 from coffee company representative A, a sponsor of the Kia Motors League, in exchange for improper requests such as providing convenience in connection with an advertising contract for player uniforms.

In addition, Kim and Jang are accused of receiving a total of 100 million won in October 2022 from A to provide convenience in connection with an advertising contract, including the establishment of a fenced home run zone at the baseball stadium. Prosecutors found that the two men split the 100 million won ($50 million) and used the money for personal purposes, such as stock investments, children’s pocket money, and travel expenses, without informing the club of the bribery.

In addition, Jang is also accused of attempted bribery for demanding 200 million won in hush money on three occasions from May to August 2022, promising to sign a free agent contract worth 1.2 billion won to Park Dong-won (now with the LG Twins), a former KIA player.

A, who provided a total of 160 million won to Kim and Jang in exchange for corruption related to an advertising contract, is accused of embezzlement.

Kim, Jang, and A, all denied the charges in court. Jang’s defense attorney argued, “In order for attempted bribery to be established in relation to Park Dong-won, there must be an improper request from the other party. However, since he (Park) did not make any request, attempted embezzlement cannot be established,” the defense attorney argued.

“I admit that I received 100 million won from former coach Kim, but it is not related to the advertising contract,” he said, adding, “When KIA entered the fall baseball season, Mr. A gave it to the players to boost their morale, so there is no improper request, so embezzlement is not recognized.”

Kim’s lawyer also explained, “What Mr. A gave to Kim was not an advertising sponsorship or a request, and since Kim was not the one who handled the advertising sponsorship, he did not receive any improper request.”

Mr. A also claimed that he gave the money to Mr. Kim as an encouragement as a longtime fan of the KIA 스포츠토토 team, saying, “I was introduced to Mr. Kim by an acquaintance around June 2022 and wanted to sign a sponsorship contract with the club to become the main sponsor and give encouragement to the coaches and players.”

The court concluded, “The elements of embezzlement include ‘corrupt solicitation’ in the statute, but the indictment itself does not state that Jang received any corrupt solicitation from anyone. On the contrary, the indictment states that Jang made an illegal offer to the athlete, so it’s questionable whether the indictment is a corruption indictment.” “The prosecution should not just make a blanket statement like this, but should specify exactly what the criminal offense is,” he added.

The investigation was initiated by the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) following a tip from a player. In the course of the investigation into Jang, the prosecutors found clues, including suspicious checks, that led them to investigate Kim’s involvement in the club’s management and suspicions that he had received improper payments in connection with advertising contracts.

Kia fired Jang in March of last year and officially announced the termination of Kim’s contract in January of this year. Prosecutors requested arrest warrants for Kim and Jang, but the court dismissed the request on the grounds that it was unlikely that they would destroy evidence or flee the country, and the two men, who have been under investigation since then, will face trial.

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