Former Korean dictator's pets are auctioned in effort to claw back cash

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The Independent Online

The two docile white dogs were available with a used television set and refrigerator. When the auctioneer's hammer fell, their combined price had soared to 78 million won (£40,000).

The dogs were pets of Chun Doo Hwan, former military dictator of South Korea. They were among belongings of Mr Chun auctioned by a court yesterday in an effort to collect the huge sum owed to the state by the former president. Mr Chun, an army general who took power in a coup in 1979 and ruled South Korea for more than 10 years, was later convicted of amassing a fortunein bribes during his presidency. The court ordered him to repay 220 billion won (£115m). So far Mr Chun has repaid 31.5 billion won.

"You can come and dig in my front yard to see if there is any hidden money," the 72-year-old Mr Chun said at a recent court hearing. He said he had the equivalent of £150 left in his bank savings.

So bailiffs from the Seoul District Court confiscated 49 items from Mr Chun's house, including the two dogs, paintings, framed calligraphy, golf clubs, porcelain and a piano.

The belongings, valued by the court at 17.9 million won (£9,000), reaped 10 times as much at the auction, which was held in a playground in Seoul.

Hundreds of bidders and spectators crowded the area, while police stood guard around Mr Chun's house. Campaigners held signs reading: "Chun Doo Hwan, return your hidden assets!"

"I just came to take a look and maybe see if I can buy something," said Kim Kwon Jung, 67. "It's really an embarrassing moment for the country. I don't think the government is doing enough to find his hidden assets." Those who bought the items refused to talk to reporters. The domestic media speculated that supporters of Mr Chun might buy the goods to return to their former boss. Mr Chun is said to have given large cash gifts to his aides during his rule.

Mr Chun said he was now dependent on financial help from relatives and friends. But local television stations showed buildings and expensive houses owned by Mr Chun's children and grandchildren.

He was arrested in 1995 with the onset of democracy in the country. He was convicted of mutiny and treason and a massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in the southern city of Gwangjuin in 1980.

He was jailed for life but was pardoned by the former president Kim Dae Jung in December 1997 as a gesture of national reconciliation. (AP)