South Korean midfielder Son Jun-ho was arrested by Chinese authorities in Liaoning province for bribery, China’s Foreign Ministry reported. Following a crackdown on match-fixing, the 31-year-old’s case is the latest action by Beijing which claims to be addressing corruption.
According to South Korean media, Son was detained at a Shanghai airport on May 12; the same day he celebrated his birthday. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that he was with his family when he was apprehended.
Son had been part of the Chinese Super League’s Shandong Taishan since 2021, but was suspected of bribery surrounding match-fixing involving coach Hao Wei.
Wan Wenbin, spokesman for the foreign ministry in Beijing, said the midfielder was detained “on suspicion of accepting bribes by non-state employees.” He added that police would give South Korean diplomats access to “necessary facilities” to interact with Son.
South Korean diplomats will meet Son “to figure out exactly what kind of charges” he has been charged with, South Korean-based news agency Yonhap reported.
“China is a country governed by the rule of law and handles the relevant cases in accordance with the law to protect all the legitimate rights and interests of the parties involved,” Wang told a news briefing, according to al-Jazeera.
Son Jun-ho was previously a member of South Korea’s Pohang Steelers and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, playing for his home country 18 times, including a run at the World Cup in Qatar last year. He then moved to Shandong Taishan in 2021 for a four-year contract.
There has been no comment on Son’s status, but his club uploaded a poster wishing him a happy birthday on Friday.
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Lim Soo-suk, spokesperson for South Korea’s foreign ministry, said that Seoul was giving Son “necessary consular assistance,” but did not provide details on the situation, reportedly for privacy reasons.
Citing a diplomatic source, Yonhap reported that Son was “questioned by public security authorities in Liaoning province while in detention.”
Beijing has recently arrested at least four football officials for alleged wrongdoing, despite a rocky reputation within the sports world. Leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, previously pledged that he would invest to transform China into a “football superpower,” but so far efforts have not bore fruit.
The Chinese Super League, which Son joined, was brought back to life following the lifting of pandemic restrictions, but it has been left with more troubles involving finance and more arrests of high-profile figures.
In February, the president of the Chinese Football Association (CFA) Chen Xuyuan was suspected of “serious violations of discipline and the law.” He was detained, becoming the fourth known football official to be questioned in less than three months, the BBC wrote.
Last November, Li Tie, former national coach, was also investigated for the same violations.
In early May, two more Chinese football officials — CFA vice-president Li Yuyi, and ex-chairman of the Super League, Ma Chengquan — were also placed under investigation for corruption, according to the SCMP.