Chun Woo Won, the grandson of former South Korean president Chun Doo Hwan, has recently caused a stir in South Korea with his apparent whistleblowing on his own family. He alleged that his family members have been living on illicit funds, have committed crimes, and that his grandfather was a “slaughterer.”
I think my grandfather was a slaughterer. He is not a hero that defended his country, but merely a criminal.
—Chun Woo Won
Chun Doo Hwan is remembered in South Korea’s history as an iron-fisted military dictator who ran an authoritarian government from 1980 to 1988. During the Gwangju Democratic Uprising of May 1980, Chun’s military junta suppressed citizens protesting against its regime brutally. The official records say around 144 civilians died, and 127 were left injured during these protests. But these figures are highly disputed. Based on reports by foreign press sources and critics of the Chun Doo Hwan administration, it has been argued that the actual death toll was in the 1000 to 2000 range.
But Chun’s crimes were not limited to political oppression. In 1997, the Supreme Court found him guilty of treason, bribery, and other crimes and gave him a death sentence. It was later commuted to a life sentence, and finally, a presidential pardon released him from prison. Upon his release, Chun was ordered to forfeit [KRW] 220 billion for amassing slush funds, but the former dictator refused to pay the amount, arguing that he had only [KRW] 290,00 [/krw] left to his name. He died in November 2021 at the age of 90, and as of last October, state prosecutors were able to collect only [KRW]127.9 billion [/krw], which accounts for 58% of the total forfeit.
But Chun Woo Won’s recent revelations have brought new attention to the case, as it directly opposes Chun Doo Hwan’s poverty claim. The 27-year-old grandson of the former dictator went on a posting spree on March 15, claiming that his entire family has been living luxurious lives thanks to the huge slush funds of his grandfather. He also said that those slush funds could still be found at the house in Seoul’s Yeonhui-dong, where Chun Doo Hwan’s widow, Lee Soon Ja, currently lives.
I could go to school in the United States as I was given millions of won from an unknown source every year… At least 1 billion won was used for my education. That would not have been clean money.
—Chun Woo Won, Yonhap News Agency
He mentioned that his uncles probably received even bigger amounts of money. Chun Woo Won posted a few video clips, making some damaging claims about his father and grandmother directly. In one video, he revealed that his father has been fabricating legal papers to conceal his crimes in Korea and claiming he is a Christian preacher to attain U.S. citizenship. He also said that the third son of the former president currently runs a winery in Napa Valley. “Only those who have astronomical money can enter the winery business. I can smell dark money here,” Woo Won claimed.
He also posted a video of an old woman playing screen golf at home, which he later revealed was his grandmother Lee Joon Ja. Chun Jae Young, the father of Woo Won, dismissed all of his claims, saying that his son was unwell and it was his fault that he couldn’t take care of him better. However, Woo Won had uploaded records of his medical treatment showing that he was fit to work, anticipating that his family would likely claim that he was mentally incapacitated. He mentioned that he was working in the strategic consulting department of EY in New York.
Chun Woo Won also claimed he had tried to take his own life to escape his “sins and pain.” He disclosed the names and social media profiles of some of his acquaintances whom he accused of drug use and sex crimes. Two of the accused are two Air Force officers. After Chun’s allegations, the Ministry of National Defense said it’s reviewing whether the accusations need to be investigated.
On Thursday, March 16, Chun went live on YouTube at 4 p.m., claiming to “reveal everything” about his family. During the broadcast, he apologized for his and his family’s crimes and then announced that he would donate half of his money to the public, making a $52,265 USD donation to UNICEF in real time. Additionally, he confessed to using LSD and weed and said he would be the first to get arrested since he, too, is one of the criminals.
Following this declaration, he seemed to start using drugs on the livestream and showed signs of hallucination. He started begging for his life when the police, the fire vehicles, and an ambulance showed up in front of his apartment. The livestream went on for another hour before the authorities entered the house, and Chun was escorted out on a stretcher. The ambulance took him to a hospital, and the video was removed from YouTube for violating platform rules. The New York police denied any comment on Chun’s current condition.
Chun Woo Won’s whistleblowing has made quite some noise on Korean online forums, where the public has shown concern for the young man’s safety.
- “Wow, he’s quite a religious person… I’m rooting for him, and I hope he is safe.”
- “I’m worried if he’s safe with this crazy government around.”
- “It must’ve been hard….”
- “Are the reporters going to cover this? We don’t have reporters, we only have garbage instead.”
- “Imagine if everyone around you is abnormal and you’re the only normal one. That has to hurt… He’s amazing.”
- “I’m rooting for you!.”
- “This must be the time when society and the media cover this up. ㅠㅠI pray for his safety.”
- “This is the real function of religion. I’m rooting for you.”
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