South Korean official in charge of cryptocurrency policy found dead at home

Copies of bitcoins standing on a PC motherboard in an illustration picture taken on Oct 26, 2017.
Copies of bitcoins standing on a PC motherboard in an illustration picture taken on Oct 26, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL - A South Korean official who was in charge of devising measures against cryptocurrency speculation was found dead at his home in Seoul on Sunday (Feb 18), according to his office and police.

Jung Ki Joon, 52, was head of the Economic Policy Coordination Office under the Office for Government Policy Coordination.

He helped coordinate efforts to create new legislation aimed at reining in cryptocurrency speculation and illicit activity, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) cited a goverment spokesman as saying.

Jung is believed to have suffered a heart attack while sleeping, police said. He had already stopped breathing when his family went into his room to wake him up in the morning, Yonhap reported.

Jung's colleagues raised the possibility that stress could have led to his death. They said he had been under a lot of pressure since taking charge of the counter-cyber money team at the office late last year, Yonhap reported.

The government launched a series of meetings of vice-ministers, led by Hong Nam Ki, minister of the Office for Government Policy Coordination, in late November last year to regulate cryptocurrency transactions and curb market overheating.

Jung was in charge of coordinating the views of different ministries and offices to prepare for the weekly meetings of Hong and relevant vice-ministers, according to Yonhap.

South Korea has been pushing for broad regulatory supervision of cryptocurrency trading as locals, including students and housewives, have entered the market despite inherent risks and warnings from policymakers around the world of a bubble.

Seoul previously said it was considering shutting down local cryptocurrency exchanges, which threw the market into turmoil and hammered bitcoin prices. Officials later clarified an outright ban is only one of the steps being considered, and a final decision was yet to be made.

At a briefing last month, Jung said virtual currencies like bitcoin were not a form of legal currency and the government would "strongly respond to excessive cryptocurrency speculation and illegal activity", WSJ reported.

But in a shift from earlier rhetoric - which hinted at an outright ban of cryptocurrency exchanges - Choe Heungsik, governor of South Korea's Financial Supervisory Service, told reporters this week that he wants to see normalised trading of digital assets, and said the FSS is making efforts to do that.

Bitcoin hit a three-week high on Tuesday (Feb 20) and has surged nearly 100 per cent from its lowest level this year, as its recovery continued after South Korea's financial regulator eased its stance on cryptocurrencies.