Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Signals Resignation Amid Bribery Scandal

John Kim, May 24, 2016, 11:10 a.m.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors head coach Choi Kang-hee on Tuesday hinted at resignation over a bribery scandal involving one of the club's scouts, saying he feels responsible for the corruption crisis. Jeonbuk reached the quarterfinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League after beating Melbourne Victory 2-1 at home, but the result was overshadowed by the bribery allegations dogging a Jeonbuk scout. Local prosecutors said Monday the scout had been indicted on charges of bribing referees in the South Korean pro football league in 2013.

"I've been staying with this club for more than 10 years and I've been running the team by putting trust first, whether it is for fans or the club," Choi said after the match. "I think I should take the responsibility, instead of the club."

   After the prosecutors' announcement, Jeonbuk issued an apology and insisted the scout had acted on his own. But depending on the court rulings, the Jeonju-based club can face point deduction or relegation to the second division, and even expulsion from the league.

Choi said that he will talk more about the issue once the investigation is complete. The 57-year-old coach led Jeonbuk to four K League Classic titles and the 2006 AFC Champions League trophy during his tenure at Jeonbuk.

"The head coach who runs the squad should take the responsibility and talk about the outcome," he said. "But the case is still under investigation, so I will talk more about the issue once the investigation results come out."

   Choi said that he was shocked when he heard about the news, but insisted that he has nothing to do with the bribery case because he was not with the club when it occurred. From December 2011 to June 2013, Choi was the head coach of the South Korean men's national team. He returned to Jeonbuk just four days after he quit the national team job.

"I was not with the club that time," he said. "But I knew Jeonbuk had a difficult time while I was gone and someone started this wrongdoing."

   The scout, only identified with his surname Cha, has been with Jeonbuk since 2002. According to the prosecutors, the scout bribed two referees in the K League by handing each of them 1 million won (US$840) per match and asked them to make favorable calls for Jeonbuk. The prosecutors said one referee, 41, received the money twice, while another referee, 36, accepted the bribes three times in 2013.

Choi lamented that it was his fault for not taking the issue seriously when he met with Cha after the scout was probed by prosecutors.

"He (the scout) told me after the investigation that there was nothing to worry about, so I didn't think seriously about it, which was my mistake," he said. "I couldn't really ask him about the case because he was looking very grave."

   But Choi said he has no intention of defending the scout's action, saying that it is "the wrong thing" to do for the club.

Meanwhile, Lee Chul-geun, general manager of Jeonbuk, also hinted that he will step down over the bribery case.

"I'm the one who takes charge of this club and I think it's not right for the head coach to take the responsibility," he said. "I'm also determined to take the responsibility."

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