Actress Yoon Suk-hwa, left, and her husband Kim Seok-ki
By Na Jeong-ju
The Korea Center for Investigative Journalism (KCIJ) disclosed the names of five more high-profile Koreans suspected of having evaded taxes by creating bogus companies in offshore tax havens, Thursday.
They are actress Yoon Suk-hwa; her husband Kim Seok-ki, former CEO of the now-defunct Joongang Mutual Savings Bank; Samsung Electronics executive Lee Soo-hyung; Kyungdong University President Chun Sung-yong; and Cho Won-pyo, CEO of NBIZ, an online marketing firm.
This is the latest in a series of disclosures of suspected offshore tax dodgers by the journalists' group, which is working with the U.S.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. So far, the names of 17 Koreans have been unveiled.
Its data suggests high-profile figures from virtually all sectors of society committed such crimes. They are only some of the 245 Koreans who the KCIJ claims set up paper firms or opened accounts in offshore tax havens, such as the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands. There have been rumors that a number of politicians and senior government officials are also on the list.
The group said it will disclose more names once or twice a week until it gives out the full list by the end of June.
According to the KCIJ, Kim set up six paper firms in the Virgin Islands since 1990. In 1993, he set up a firm named STV Asia along with his wife Yoon.
The couple created a firm named Energylink Holdings Limited in 2005 jointly with Lee and Cho. Kim was investigated in 2000 over suspicions of a Foreign Exchange Law violation and embezzlement, but received only a minor penalty.
Chun also has four bogus firms _ one of them in his own name. His English name on the university's website is differently spelled as Chun Seong-young. University officials said he hasn't reported to work since early last week.
The KCIJ's revelations have prompted an all-out war against overseas tax dodgers by the government. Officials said the National Tax Service, the Korea Customs Service and the Financial Supervisory Service are cooperating closely to trace hidden overseas assets held by the suspects mentioned by the group. The list includes Hanjin Shipping Chairwoman Choi Eun-young, former SK Securities Vice President Cho Min-ho, OCI Chairman Lee Soo-young, former Korean Air Vice Chairman Cho Joong-geon, Hanwha executive Hwang Yong-deug and Lee Deog-kyu, a former Daewoo International official.
According to chaebul.com, which traces the assets of family-owned business groups and their CEOs, 24 conglomerates have a total of 5.7 trillion won ($5.1 billion) worth of assets in nine tax havens, including the Cayman Islands, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Samoa and Cyprus. The firms include CJ, Hanwha, SK, Samsung and LG.
Last year, the Tax Justice Network, a London-based civic organization, claimed the amount that Koreans moved to tax havens from 1970 to 2010 totaled $779 billion, the third largest amount following China and Russia. That's more than twice the government budget for this year.