US returns S$1.6m stolen by ex-South Korean president Chun Doo Hwan

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States has returned more than a million dollars to South Korea that were embezzled by a former dictator and hidden abroad, officials said on Tuesday (Nov 10).

South Korea's former president Chun Doo Hwan was convicted of corruption in 1996 in his own country, but it took US agents years to track down the assets.

The money was returned on Monday and on Tuesday, US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met Korean Justice Minister Kim Hyun Woong to congratulate him.

US officials said the return of the funds, US$1.13 million (S$ 1.61 million) in today's dollars, demonstrated Washington's commitment to rooting out the profits of theft by foreign leaders.

Attorney-General Loretta Lynch called the seizure "a powerful vindication of the rule of law and an important victory for the people of the Republic of Korea".

The Department of Justice said FBI investigators had traced US$726,951 to a California account linked to the sale of Orange County real estate by Chun's son.

A second US$500,000 was traced to a Pennsylvania company found to be linked to Chun's "corruption scheme".

The former leader, now 84, seized power after the 1979 assassination of long-time military ruler Park Chung Hee. He led South Korea for eight turbulent years marred by extensive corruption.

In a judgment confirmed by South Korea's Supreme Court in 1997, he was convicted of insurrection and corruption and ordered to repay 220 billion won (S$270 million).

Last year, art works belonging to his family were sold off but he is still a long way short of repaying his debt to the nation.

President Park Geun Hye, the daughter of the late Park Chung Hee, has chided her predecessors for not pushing Chun hard enough to pay the rest of his fines.

Chun's son and his brother-in-law were both given suspended jail sentences last year after being convicted of tax evasion.