The trial of Lee Sang-jun, the CEO of Bithumb Holdings, the parent company of the crypto exchange Bithumb, has commenced in Seoul, South Korea. Alongside him, former pro golfer and celebrity Ahn Seong-hyeon is also being tried on charges related to “soliciting the listings” of undisclosed altcoins. According to reports by Newsis, the trial started on November 21 at a branch of the Seoul Southern District Court, following prosecutors’ intentions to indict both men on breach of trust charges announced in August.
The prosecution alleges that Ahn influenced Lee to list a specific coin on the Bithumb exchange. Ahn, known for his celebrity status, achieved fame in 2017 through marriage to K-pop star Sung Yu-ri and coaching the national golf team. Prosecutors suspect Ahn of being a close associate of businessman Kang Jong-hyun, purportedly the majority “owner” of Bithumb, facing charges in a separate trial for unrelated stock price manipulation.
Prosecutors claim that Lee and Ahn, at the behest of Kang, facilitated the listing of two “kimchi coins” on Bithumb. Kimchi coins are typically low-cap South Korean coins known for speculative investments. The prosecution contends that Kang made payments totaling over $2.3 million in cash and provided “two luxury watches” worth a total of $311,000 to Lee and Ahn between September and November 2021.
🚨 Breaking News: #BitcoinWorld 🌐 – Former Bithumb Holdings CEO Lee Sang-jun and golfer Ahn Seong-hyun deny charges of receiving money for listing virtual assets, while businessman Kang Jong-hyeon, accused of stock price manipulation, admits to providing funds. 🏛️💸…
— BitcoinWorld Media (@ItsBitcoinWorld) November 21, 2023
Acting as a mediator, Ahn allegedly managed the interaction between Kang and Lee, with Kang maintaining distance from the exchange’s daily operations. The duo is accused of spending almost $9,000 at a high-end restaurant using a membership card they received. Prosecutors assert that Kang urged Lee to expedite the coin listings on Bithumb. Additionally, Ahn purportedly deceived Kang into paying an extra $1.6 million, claiming it was required to proceed with the coin listings. Prosecutors believe Ahn pocketed this additional payment.
Although the identity of the coins remains undisclosed, at least one is described as a “low-trust” coin, rarely listed due to its lack of associated business and unclear substance. Prosecutors contend that Kang’s motive for listing the coin on Bithumb was to artificially inflate its price and generate profits.
After initially rejecting prosecutors’ attempt to indict Ahn and Lee on September 1, the courts granted approval when a second bid was lodged on September 28.