South Korean Earthquake Scientist Convicted of Money Laundering

(CN) – The director of South Korea’s Earthquake Research Center has been convicted after a four-day trial of laundering bribes he received from science technology companies based in California and Great Britain.

Heon-Cheol Chi, 59, was convicted by a jury of one count of transacting in criminally-derived property.

Prosecutors said the Chi used his position at the center, which is part of the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, to solicit over $1 million in bribes from two seismological companies in exchange for giving them unfair business advantages in the South Korean market.

At trial they told the jury that between 2009 and 2015, Chi carried out an elaborate scheme in which he insisted payments either be made in cash or wired to his personal bank account in Glendora, Calif.

From that account, Chi transferred about half the payments to an investment account held in New York City, and sent most of the remaining funds to an account in South Korea.

Once he was paid, prosecutors said, Chi advocated for the purchase of equipment from both firms and advised other potential South Korean customers to buy the firms’ technology as well.

But his aid to the companies didn’t end there, prosecutors said.

He also reportedly provided the firms with market intelligence and other “inside” information, including confidential information about their competitors and the bidding process at the institute.

Jurors were also told Chi went to great lengths to conceal his scheme, including instructing those who were bribing him to delete or not respond to his emails and sending phony invoices listing a false address in New Jersey.

But at the same time, in his emails to his contacts at the companies, he frequently admitted that what he was doing was illegal and that he knew it.

“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,” he said during one 2014 exchange.

During the six years that his scheme was ongoing, Chi brought in more in bribes than he earned in yearly salary, prosecutors said.

Chi will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge John Walter in Los Angeles on Oct. 2.

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