S Korean celebs mired in illegal gambling allegations

Two A-list hosts of variety shows and a former K-pop singer are under investigation for illegal sports gambling in the latest in a long line of celebrities caught up in the illegal sport.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office said it summoned comedian Lee Soo-geun, 38, on Sunday for questioning on suspicions he wagered hundreds of millions of won on football teams in the English Premier League through a private gambling site.

Under a related law, "Sportstoto" (www.sportstoto.co.kr), operated by a licensed brokerage for the Korea Sports Promotion Foundation, is the only authorised sports gambling venue in Korea. All the other sports gambling channels are illegal.

The prosecution is said to have also recently called in TV entertainer and show host Tak Jae-hoon, 45, for inquiry on the same suspicion. Tak shot to stardom as a member of two-man band "Country Kko Kko" with Shin Jung-hwan, who has also faced his own gambling scandal.

On Monday, it was disclosed that prosecutors summoned singer Tony An last month on the same suspicion of illegal sports betting. An debuted as a member of the now defunct boy band H.O.T. in 1996.

The prosecution is reportedly investigating six to eight TV celebrities in connection with illegal sports betting.

After the news broke, Lee expressed his intentions to leave all current programs "for some time" to reflect on his conduct. He could potentially make a comeback after the scandal as show host Kim Yong-man did.

In April, Kim gained notoriety after he was indicted for habitual illegal sports betting. The 45-year-old emcee said at that time that he would have some time of self-restraint and quit all his programs, though he has recently began making TV appearances.

Shin Jung-hwan's case, however, has shown the fall of a TV celeb due to gambling. He was caught gambling in 2005, resigned from all his shows, and then re-emerged and regained his popularity. But in 2010, he was dropped from all TV programs after being caught in lies over gambling in the Philippines followed by his indictment here in Korea.

By Chun Sung-woo (swchun@heraldcorp.com)