In a shocking turn of events, South Korean prosecutors have recently requested the arrest of Ahn Seong-hyun, a former professional golfer, and Lee Sang-jun, the CEO of Bithumb Holdings, one of the country’s leading cryptocurrency exchanges. The Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office’s Financial Investigation Department suspects that the pair may have engaged in listing tokens on the exchange in exchange for bribes. This scandal has sent shockwaves throughout South Korea, as Ahn Seong-hyun was not only a celebrated golfer but also married to a famous A-list actress.

Ahn Seong-hyun rose to prominence in the golfing world after turning professional in 2005 and even went on to coach South Korea’s national golf team. He became a household name in 2017 when he married Sung Yu-ri, a renowned K-pop star-turned-actress. However, earlier this year, prosecutors made their first attempt to arrest Ahn on suspicion of illicit activities. It is believed that Ahn had abused his close friendship with Kang Jong-hyun, the alleged majority owner of Bithumb, to convince him to list an undisclosed domestic cryptocurrency on the exchange. Investigators suspect that Ahn accepted a bribe from the coin’s issuer and used his influence to persuade Kang to push for the token’s listing on Bithumb.

Apart from Ahn Seong-hyun, the prosecutors have also targeted Lee Sang-jun, the CEO of Bithumb Holdings. Lee is accused of receiving illegal payments from Kang Jong-hyun, which facilitated the listing of the questionable token on the exchange. According to reports, Lee allegedly received a whopping $3.8 million from Kang between 2021 and 2022, raising further concerns about the integrity of Bithumb’s operations.

Since April, prosecutors have been trying persistently to obtain an arrest warrant for Ahn Seong-hyun, but their efforts have been repeatedly thwarted. This delay has left many questioning the effectiveness and efficiency of the judicial system. Meanwhile, Kang Jong-hyun, the alleged majority owner of Bithumb, is facing separate charges of manipulating stock and cryptoasset prices, as well as embezzlement. As the investigation unfolds, the public’s scrutiny of Bithumb’s ownership structure continues to intensify, especially after a damning exposé was published by a prominent South Korean media outlet, Dispatch, last year.

The ongoing scandal surrounding Ahn Seong-hyun and Lee Sang-jun has not only damaged their personal reputations but has also raised concerns about the credibility of Bithumb and the wider cryptocurrency industry in South Korea. This incident highlights the need for stricter regulations and oversight in the crypto sector to prevent such illicit activities and protect investors’ interests. The investigations into Bithumb and other rival exchanges, such as Coinone, for allegations of bribes-for-coin listings, further emphasize the urgency for regulatory action to ensure the integrity of the market.

As the warrant review hearing for Ahn Seong-hyun and Lee Sang-jun approaches, the South Korean public eagerly awaits the outcome of this high-profile scandal. The case represents a significant test for the country’s justice system and its ability to hold influential figures accountable. Regardless of the verdict, the incident serves as a stark reminder of the potential risks and malpractices that exist within the cryptocurrency industry. Moving forward, it is crucial for South Korea and other jurisdictions to implement robust regulations that can effectively combat such illegal activities and safeguard the integrity of the digital asset market.


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