Seung-hwan Oh (33), who played for the Hanshin Tigers until the end of this season, underwent interrogations for illegal gambling activities in Seoul, South Korea on the 9th. According to local media, he has admitted to part of the allegations against him. Hanshin, who suspended their negotiations to hold on to Oh for next season, have called him “out” and have confirmed they will not re-open negotiations regardless of the verdict. He appears to be in danger of ostracization in Korean ball and the majors as well.
Rumblings at Koshien this December. Korean media is reporting that investigations went on for 5 hours. Seung-hwan Oh allegedly wagered a vast amount of money at a high-class casino in Macao last year in November. Oh, who was in America hoping to sign on with a major league club, returned to Korea when summoned.According to Seoul General News, Oh admitted to buying chips worth hundreds of millions of won (100 million won is around 10.4 million yen) but testified that the actual amount of times and total amount of money he gambled was not substantial. Investigators have determined the amount gambled to be no less than several million yen and he will be released as the indictment continues. One investigator says “there apears to be no reason for further investigation.”
The scandal’s perpetrator, former Yakult Swallows pitcher Chang-yong Lim, also underwent investigation last month (24th) for illegal gambling at a Macao casino, resulting in his release from the Samsung Lions. He was banned from Korean baseball. No doubt Seung-hwan Oh stands on shaky ground himself.
The same thing could happen to him in Japan. Hanshin Tigers chairman Keiichiro Yotsufuji (55) has responded to the situation from team headquarters in Nishinomiya by ending negotiations with the former closer on the 8th. Oh’s representative reported to Yotsufuji that “he was summoned by investigators and is complying with them.”
“I have yet to hear anything else so I have no further comment. Where did the money come from, was there a violation of foreign exchange laws… what is the nature of the allegations, what is the case against him…”
Yotsufuji expressed confusion but Korean media has already reported that a former gangsters who was operating the casino was involved with Chang-yong Lim, and the possibility of Oh having connections to the same gangster group is real.
There is a difference between the laws of Korea and Japan, but “the investigation is being conducted in Korea. If he is found guilty, there is a problem. It will have effects (here in Japan),” the chairman continued. He also explained that if this went on to court, the verdict could take a long time, whereby the team would not be able to wait to hear if he is guilty or not. Whether he pleads guilty or is released, “we’ll need to make that decision (to end negotiations). Even if he is not imprisoned, we have to take care of our own situation here. We can’t take the risk.”
Not only can the team not wait, but the baseball world in Japan has already been shaken by scandal when Yomiuri Giants players were found guilty of illegal gambling. The nature of the crimes may differ but the league has an image to withhold when it comes to dealing with gambling suspects. It’s safe to say that the club is calling Oh “out” when it determines to end negotiations with him regardless of the investigation’s outcome. He saved 357 games in Korea and Japan. He had dreams of saving more games in the majors. Now the possibility exists he won’t be able to save himself from expulsion from all of baseball.
NPB “No Concern”
Concerning Seung-hwan Oh’s alleged illegal gambling suspicions, a Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) spokesperson explained, “The judgment takes place in Korea and is of no concern to NPB.” Oh had already been removed from the Hanshin Tiger official roster and is an unrestricted free agent – he belongs to no baseball club at present. If Hanshin, who was negotiating a deal with him, sees him fit to play ball for the club, he may be legally signed to a deal, however, suspicion of dealings with Korean gangsters makes it unethical and thus unlikely that he will be able to sign a contract.
Gambling in Korea
The Korean penal code applies even to crimes committed outside of the country. Gambling is acceptable as a one-off form of entertainment, but when it comes to large amounts of money or habitual gambling, it is a punishable offense. In this case, the casino in Macao is known to have affiliations with Korean mafia. Because of the limits placed on carrying foreign currencies across borders, it is believed that Oh borrowed millions of yen worth of chips, then returned to Korea empty-handed and “returned” the “borrowed” money back in Korea. That system, which gives the mafia a source of capital, is seen to be problematic.