De-facto owner of Bithumb exchange arrested in South Korea

abdelaziz Fathi

South Korean prosecutors have arrested Kang Jong-Hyun, the anonymous chairman and owner of the country’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Bithumb, on charges of embezzlement and stock manipulation.

Kang Jong-hyun, Bithumb

The Seoul Southern District Court issued an arrest warrant for Kang Jong-Hyun last month on suspicions of embezzlement relating to his activities at the exchange. His younger sister, Kang Ji-Yeon, and the CEO of two publicly traded Bithumb affiliates, Inbiogen and Bucket Studio, were also slapped with the same charges by the Seoul Southern District Prosecutor’s Office.

Prosecutors alleged that these executives were in breach of the duty of trust imposed on them under the law, as well as embezzlement of company funds running into millions of dollars. Under South Korea’s laws, Bithumb’s executives are staring at a lengthy prison sentence in addition to the payment of fines.

Kang and other top executives allegedly manipulated the stock price of Bithumb’s affiliate companies using convertible bonds.

Another Bucket Studio executive was arrested in October on charges of obstructing a police investigation. He reportedly sought to conceal or destroy critical data just before the detectives began onsite raids of three firms with links to Bithumb.

The development comes as authorities attempt to unravel the mysteries surrounding the ownership of the exchange. In late December, Park Mo, the vice president of the largest shareholder firm of Bithumb, committed suicide in his home.

Bithumb was also raided by police and tax agencies for alleged tax evasion. The country’s tax inspectors visited the exchange’s headquarters in Seoul, as part of a push to increase taxation and compliance, the National Tax Service (NTS) said. The current investigation extends to domestic and international transactions of Bithumb Korea, Bithumb Holdings and affiliates.

The exchange was in the news recently after its former chair, Lee Jung-Hoon, was acquitted on charges of defrauding the business of $70 million during the acquisition of the South Korean crypto exchange. South Korean prosecutors were also seeking an eight-year jail sentence for Lee Jung-hoon, the de-facto owner of the country’s second-largest crypto exchange, in another $100 million fraud case.

Earlier in January, the South Korean supreme court ordered Bithumb to pay more than $200,00 in fines for users who suffered following a service outage in 2017. The final ruling overturns a previous court decision in favor of Bithumb against the investors. Monetary restitution to victims is said to remedy damages ranging from as little as $6 to around $6,400 to each of the 132 investors who filed a lawsuit against the crypto exchange operator.

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