By Duncan Mackay

January 10 - South Korean officials fear that Pyeongchang's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics could be dragged into a controversy involving Chun Shin-il (pictured), the chief executive of Sejoong Namo Tour and the President of the Korea Wrestling Federation (KWF), who has been linked with giving bribes to referees during the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Chun has been charged with evading taxes and taking illicit money from a businessman close to former President Roh Moo-hyun and reports claimed during his trial that he had offered part of the money to referees.

He has alleged to have claimed to have taken the money from Park Yeon-cha, the former chairman of Taekwang Industrial and then vice-chairman of the KWF, to distribute to referees.

He said: "I delivered a sum of 150 thousand Yuan (£13,650) from Park Yeon-cha to wrestling referees at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

"I gave some of the money to the mat chairman's [sic] directly during visits to their rooms and gave the rest of the money to referees through Korean Wrestling Federation employees.

"It was a customary practice."

But he has now claimed that he only said that he delivered the money to the coaches of the Korean wrestling team for "encouragement", said Yang Soo-jeong, a spokesman for Chun, said.

South Korea sent 11 wrestlers to compete in Beijing but won only one medal, a bronze from Park Eun-Chul (pictured) in the men's Greco-Roman 55 kg category.

Kim Hye-jin, the KWF  vice-president, meanwhile, has contradicted Yang's details of events.

He has claimed that the money was just so South Korean referees could buy some lunch and meet their day-to-day costs while they were in the Chinese capital.

Kim said: "I received money from the KWF president and my boss Chun.

"I gave some of it to two Korean referees, who are recognised by FILA, the international governing body of wrestling, as international referees.

"I gave the money to them so they could use it as expenses."

With South Korea set to be under the spotlight this year with bids for the 2018 Olympics and the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the row could hit their campaigns, especially if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) launch an investigation into the allegations.

A spokesman for the Korea Sports Council said: "This could affect international opinion and cause a misunderstanding about South Korea’s spirit of fair play.

"South Korea could face a loss of prestige as a result of this."

Pyeongchang are currently the favourites to host the 2018 Olympics, having narrowly failed to beat Vancouver for the 2010 Games and Sochi for 2014, in a race that also involves Annecy and Munich.

Park, a financial supporter of the late President Roh, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison last week and a fine of 30 billion won (£16.5 million).

Park was found guilty last year of bribing politicians and Government officials and evading up to 29 billion won (£16 million) in taxes.

Following Park's arrest last year, the prosecutors found Roh and his family members received around $6 million (£3.7 million) from the businessman during his five-year Presidential term.

Prosecutors suspect that Park gave Chun to use his influence to stop a tax investigation into his company.

Chun is a close friend of President Lee Myung-bak.

The Sejoong Namo chief executive has denied the claim.

Prosecutors have demanded that he be given a four years in prison and a 15 billion won fine (£8 million).

Last month the Korean Government gave former Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee a Presidential pardon after he was convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion convictions so that he can resume his position as a member of the IOC and help Pyeongchang's bid.

President Lee said he pardoned the multi-millionaire businessman to allow the former chairman to serve on the IOC, which he temporarily had stood down from in 2008 because of his legal problems.

Lee had been convicted of failing to pay $39 million (£24 million) in taxes, after it was alleged he hid money in accounts held under the names of aides.

It was also alleged he transferred ownership of company shares to his son Lee Jae-yong at unfairly low prices.

He had been given a three-year suspended prison sentence and fined 110 billion won (£58 million).

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