The unprecedented situation of a manager and a general manager of a professional baseball team being jailed at the same time has been avoided. Former KIA Tigers manager Kim Jong-guk (51) and former team president Jang Jeong-seok (51), who are accused of taking kickbacks from sponsors, have been spared the worst of the situation.
Yoo Chang-hoon, deputy chief judge of the Seoul Central District Court’s warrant division, dismissed the arrest warrants for both Kim Jong-kook and Jang Jeong-seok, who are accused of embezzlement and other offenses, after conducting a pretrial interrogation (warrant substantive examination) on Tuesday.
According to News1, Deputy Chief Judge Yoo said, “The materials related to the charges have been substantially secured, and it is difficult to believe that there is a risk of evidence destruction or escape. In light of the statements of those involved, including the process of sponsorship and the suspect’s involvement, it is necessary to ensure the right to defense regarding whether the money received was the price of an illegal request,” Yoo explained the reason for denying the warrant.
With the dismissal of the warrant, Kim Jong-kook avoided the first disgraceful arrest of a sitting baseball manager for personal corruption. Previously, in 1983, Kim Jin-young, then manager of the Sammi Superstars, was charged with assaulting an umpire for disputing a call during a game. Kim Jong-kook and Jang Jeong-seok are accused of accepting 100 million won and tens of millions of won respectively from a coffee company that sponsors the KIA team. Prosecutors suspect that Kim met with the sponsor’s chairman, A, in June 2022 to propose an epaulette ad, which he reported to Jang. Epaulettes are advertisements placed on the sleeves or shoulders of a player’s jersey, and prosecutors believe the two intervened in the sponsor selection process in exchange for money.
The arrest warrant for the two men allegedly states that Kim met with A at Incheon SSG Landers Field in July 2022 to solicit and receive money for an advertising contract and to check the progress of the company’s advertising. Separately, Jang is also accused of attempted embezzlement.
Earlier in the day, Kim Jong-kook and Jang Jeong-seok appeared at the Seoul Central District Court in Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul. The two appeared at around 10 a.m. and faced the press after being questioned about the warrant for about two hours. The reporters asked them a number of questions, including “did you receive money behind the scenes,” “do you admit to the charges,” and “what do you have to say to your fans,” but did not receive any answers. The two were then taken to the Seoul Detention Center in Uiwang, Gyeonggi-do, and left the detention center after 10 p.m. after about 12 hours of warrant checks.
The decision to release them means that there are fewer reasons to keep them in custody, including the seriousness of the charges, the risk of recidivism and retaliation, flight, and destruction of evidence. As a result, Kim Jong-kook and Jang Jeong-seok will be able to address allegations of embezzlement and other suspicions against them in the community, rather than in prison.
The main charge against them is embezzlement. The crime of embezzlement under Article 357 of the Criminal Code is defined as a person who handles the affairs of another and obtains property or property benefits by receiving a fraudulent request in connection with that task. Those guilty of this offense are subject to imprisonment for up to five years or a fine of up to 10 million won.
The scandal began in March last year when Jang Jeong-seok allegedly asked for money from Park Dong-won (34-LG Twins), who was playing for KIA at the time, in 2022. Jang allegedly asked for money while discussing an extension with Park, which became public after Park delivered a recording to the Korean Baseball Players’ Association. On March 28, KIA learned of the allegations and convened a disciplinary committee the following day on March 29. After hearing both Jang and the player’s side of the story, KIA decided that the conversation was inappropriate and dismissed him for damaging his dignity. After receiving a self-report from the KIA, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) deemed the matter serious enough to investigate all 10 clubs and formally requested prosecutors to investigate in April last year.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office’s Major Crimes Investigation Division (Deputy Chief Prosecutor Lee Il-gyu), which was assigned the case, discovered Jang’s alleged embezzlement separate from the Park Dong-won case during its investigation and conducted raids on two to three locations, including Jang’s residence, last November. During the raids, we discovered that some of Jang’s ill-gotten gains went to Kim, leading to the investigation of Kim.
After learning that Mr. Kim was being investigated by law enforcement authorities through an external tip-off, Kia finally confirmed it by interviewing him on the 27th. We determined that he was unable to fulfill his duties as a director while the investigation was ongoing and suspended him on the 28th. However, on the morning of the 29th, it was revealed that Kim was not just being investigated by the prosecution, but that an arrest warrant had been requested. On the afternoon of the 29th, Kia announced, “Regardless of the outcome of the prosecution investigation, we have decided to terminate the contract of coach Kim Jong-kook due to his ‘impairment of dignity’. We will appoint a successor as soon as possible,” the organization concluded.
In an official apology, the team said, “The unfortunate incident involving manager Kim Jong-guk has caused concern and heartache to KIA fans, all baseball fans who love the KBO League, and all those involved in the KBO League.” “We accept great responsibility for this matter and will do everything we can to avoid repeating our mistakes, including improving the process of hiring managers and coaching staff and educating club members on compliance. We will also take follow-up measures to ensure that the club’s operations are quickly normalized in the future.”
Meanwhile, the KIA team, which held spring camps in Canberra, Australia (1st) and Okinawa, Japan (2nd), departed the country on the afternoon of the 30th through Incheon International Airport. The camp will be attended by 66 players, including 19 coaching staff and 47 players (22 pitchers, 4 catchers, 12 infielders, and 9 outfielders).
Na Sung-beom (35), who was appointed as the new captain this year, left a heartfelt message for the coaching staff and other KIA members on his way out. “I just want you to give us a lot of support so that we can play baseball hard,” he told reporters.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about it now. It’s not out of disrespect for the manager (Kim Jong-kook), but since we’ve started spring training, I think it’s right to focus on the camp.” He added, “The camp is the start of the baseball year, so some players haven’t seen each other for a long time. It would have been nice to start with everyone smiling and in a good mood, but I don’t want them to put their heads down too much. I don’t know who the new coach is going to be, but I hope he’s going to be quick and help the team get back on track. I told the players not to get too agitated and just do what they’ve been preparing for.”
As the captain representing the team, his first words of unity to the KIA members were significant. It was not only a wish for the coaching staff, but also a request for the players and club officials. “I think I’ll have to go to Australia and have a lot of conversations with head coach Jin Gap-yong,” Na said. “I just want him to give us a lot of support so that we can play baseball hard. If the players and coaching staff go down further in this atmosphere, it could ruin another season. The coaching staff and all of us need to turn this around quickly.”
Meanwhile, Yang Hyun-jong, the most senior member of the pitching staff, also urged the team. “This is the first time this has happened to me, so I’m embarrassed. I don’t know what to say right now. But we’re on our way to camp, so we’re trying to prepare well for camp. I hope that the players will not look away or lower their heads because of this, but will get on the plane with the resolutions and goals that they have set for themselves this year in mind.”
It is extremely rare for a team to go into spring training without a head coach for non-health reasons. The 18-year pro pitcher was surprisingly resolute in his decision. “The manager makes all the decisions, but to be honest, the coaches help me a lot during spring training. At the beginning of spring training, there are not many situations where the coach really has to step up.”
He continued, “There’s a lot of trust in the players. I’ve been to a lot of spring camps, but it’s always geared towards the players. It’s always a time when we’re trying to build our bodies and get in good shape and get ready to play, so I think it’s actually a little bit premature to think about a big coaching void or how we’re going to fill it.”