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US seeks to seize money linked to South Korean dictator

NEWPORT BEACH, California--U.S. officials on Thursday sought court permission to seize more than US$700,000 from the sale of a Southern California home they allege was bought with corrupt money provided by South Korea's former dictator.

Federal prosecutors filed a civil forfeiture complaint Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Authorities said Chun Jae-yong, son of former President Chun Doo-hwan, bought a Newport Beach home in 2005 with money provided through bribes that were given to his father.

The ex-president and his relatives “laundered some of these corruption proceeds through a web of nominees and shell companies in both Korea and the United States,” according to a statement from the U.S. Justice Department.

The home was sold in February for about US$2.1 million, and federal officials seized net sale proceeds of nearly US$727,000 that were placed in an escrow account, according to the forfeiture complaint.

With court approval, the money will be turned over to the South Korean government.

No information was available about whether the Chun family had a lawyer in the case who could be reached for comment.

Chun Doo-hwan, a former army general, seized power in a 1979 coup and ruled the country with an iron fist until early 1988. He was arrested in 1995 and received a death sentence after being convicted of corruption, mutiny and treason, though heA was pardoned in 1997 in a bid for national reconciliation.

Chun was ordered to pay back about US$203 million that he had collected from businessmen, but he returned only a portion, arguing he was broke.

Last year, family members announced that they will hand over real estate, paintings and other assets to the South Korean government to pay back the remaining money.

South Korean and U.S. prosecutors worked together on the U.S. case, which was pursued under the Justice Department's Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.

“The U.S. will not be a safe repository for assets misappropriated by corrupt foreign leaders,” Bill Lewis, the FBI's assistant director in charge of Los Angeles, said in the Justice Department statement. “The FBI is committed to working with foreign and domestic partners to identify and return those assets to the legitimate owners, in this case the people of the Republic of Korea.”

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