‘Swindler’s death fabricated’
Private investigators dealing with insurance fraud cases doubt police evidence that Cho Hee-pal, a notorious con man, died of a heart attack in China, saying a death certificate and other proof presented by his family could have been falsified.
Police said last week that the 55-year-old fugitive died in Qingdao in December while being taken to a hospital by ambulance after suffering heart failure. Cho fled to China in 2010 amid an investigation into a large-scale pyramid marketing scam, in which he reportedly swindled some 30,000 investors out of some $3 billion.
Cho had reportedly used a false passport and ID cards to evade police.
Some experts agree his death might have been fabricated and that he is still alive.
“We are suspicious of the claim that he died in an ambulance after suffering a heart attack. It’s a typical method in insurance scams,” said an inspector from an insurance company. “In that case, the scam doesn’t involve bribing doctors and nurses or presenting fabricated medical records. Such fraud has been committed as part of many insurance crimes.”
Cho’s family claimed he was cremated in China and his ashes were later brought back to Korea. According to forensic experts, cremation destroys DNA, so it is impossible to confirm whether Cho really died. His family said they opted to cremate his body because they worried that it could be mutilated by angry victims of the financial scam.
Cho’s elder brother, who had also been hiding in China since 2005 for his involvement in a fraud case, recently gave himself up to police, but told detectives that he didn’t know about Cho’s death.
There are also other clues suggesting that Cho is not dead.
Police said there were no medical records showing that he had received treatment for a heart problem. In fact, there is no clear evidence that verifies that the man who died in Qingdao was Cho.
“It’s possible that the man who was cremated was not Cho. The death certificate presented to police might be false. His family may have held a fake funeral service,” the inspector said.
In China, Cho changed his identity to “Cho Yong-bak,” a 53-year-old Korean Chinese, and had the ID card of an ethnic Korean’s, as well as a driver’s license and passport issued by Chinese authorities.
People are also skeptical about a 51-second video recording of what appears to be Cho’s funeral, which was submitted to the police as evidence of his death. It is very rare in Korea to videotape funerals.
In the video footage, a man was laid in a coffin, with his body covered by a red cloth. Police said they couldn’t tell whether the person in the coffin was dead or alive or if he was Cho.
Victims of the financial scam have called for a thorough investigation.
“The evidence presented by Cho’s family to police to prove his death may have been fabricated. Like Cho, his family members were also swindlers,” a victim was quoted as saying by a local daily.