The Korean National Tax Service has launched an audit of the country's largest law firm, Kim & Chang, over tips that the firm may have avoided paying taxes, tax officials said Monday.
NTS officials played down the probe, but some industry sources raised speculation that the audit is related to ongoing investigations into Samsung Group or Lone Star Funds.
"We've received information that some lawyers of Kim & Chang engaged in dubious activities to dodge taxes," an NTS official said. "`We are looking into their income from recent court cases and checking whether they reported the right amount in the right way."
It is the first time for the NTS to audit the law firm since 1997. Law firms are required to undergo an audit every two years, but the office had skipped the ones for Kim & Chang as the firm had received awards for fulfilling its obligations to pay taxes.
NTS officials said the audit is not a regular one.
"We began the audit because there were reports alleging that the firm had avoided taxes," the official said.
Kim & Chang, based in Seoul, is the largest law firm in South Korea with some 450 lawyers, accountants and patent and trademark attorneys. It represented Lone Star when it acquired Korea Exchange Bank in August 2003.
It also has provided services to Samsung. Late last year, lawyer Kim Yong-chul, former director of the legal department of Samsung Group, alleged that Kim & Chang actively participated in fabricating facts for the trial of Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee on charges of illegally transferring his wealth to his son through an illicit convertible bonds deal.
A number of ranking officials served or are serving as advisors to the law firm. They include Prime Minister-designate Han Seung-soo, Prime Minister Han Deok-soo and former NTS head Seo Young-taik.