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(LEAD) Prosecution seeks arrest warrant for Eastar Jet founder

17:41 April 09, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS info in paras 6, 9-10)

JEONJU, South Korea, April 9 (Yonhap) -- The prosecution on Friday sought an arrest warrant for the founder of cash-strapped budget carrier Eastar Jet on charges of embezzlement and breach of trust.

Lee Sang-jik, an independent lawmaker, is suspected of colluding with a senior company official, who was indicted in February for causing about 43 billion won (US$38.47 million) in financial damage to the airline by paying off long-term loans early and underselling company shares to a specific subsidiary.

The prosecution in Jeonju, some 200 kilometers south of Seoul, also believes Lee was the financial official's accomplice in embezzling 3.8 billion won of affiliates' funds.

This Nov. 27, 2020, file photo shows Lee Sang-jik, the founder of budget carrier Eastar Jet. The prosecution sought an arrest warrant for him on April 9, 2021, on charges of embezzlement and breach of trust. (Yonhap)

The official, arrested in January, is known to be Lee's nephew. The prosecution believes the man committed the crime under Lee's direction. During a court hearing last month the suspect testified that he just did as he was told from above.

The lawmaker is also being probed over alleged violations of the act on political parties, prosecution officials said.

He is suspected of having operated an office of party members in his constituency in Jeonju prior to the parliamentary elections in April 2020, in violation of the act that bans individuals from running party offices.

Lee, formerly affiliated with the Democratic Party, left the ruling party last September amid controversy over unpaid wages, mass layoffs and corruption allegations surrounding his family.

To detain him, the prosecution must obtain the National Assembly's consent. A lawmaker is protected from arrest while the parliament is in session.
The prosecution began the probe last July after the opposition People Power Party and the labor union of Eastar Jet filed complaints.

They raided his home and the company several times and questioned Lee in February.

Hit by an industry slump due to the coronavirus pandemic, Eastar has been in a court-led rehabilitation process since early February.
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