Heon-Cheol Chi, the former Director of South Korea’s Earthquake Research Center at the Korean Institute of Geosciences and Mineral Resources (KIGAM), was convicted this week for laundering over $1 million in bribes he received from American and British companies. His conviction followed a four-day jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Chi’s sentencing is scheduled for October 2.
During the trial, the Department of Justice (DOJ) presented evidence showing that from 2009 to 2015, two seismological companies paid Chi over $1 million in bribes in violation of South Korea’s anti-bribery law. In exchange, Chi helped the companies secure business by promoting their products internally at KIGAM and to other South Korean customers and by providing inside information regarding their competitors for KIGAM’s business. DOJ attorneys presented multiple emails showing Chi knew his conduct was illegal, including one in which Chi wrote, “I am a governmental officer and I should not have any contact with [a] private company. Moreover, it is illegal to assist any company related to the test.”
Chi’s conviction stemmed from his laundering of the illicit funds through U.S. markets in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957. Chi routinely had bribes wired to a California-based personal bank account and routed about half of those funds to an investment account in New York City. In total, Chi’s bribe-based income exceeded his salary from KIGAM.
“International corruption undermines the rule of law, threatens our national security, and harms honest companies who are playing by the rules,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco. “As this case demonstrates, the Criminal Division will hold responsible the companies and individuals who are paying bribes to foreign government officials, and the foreign government officials themselves. For the second time in recent months, the Criminal Division has convicted a foreign official who solicited bribes and then laundered the illicit proceeds in the United States. We will continue to hold such individuals responsible and accountable.”
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