South Korea soccer player Son Jun-ho detained in China on suspicion of taking bribe

BEIJING (AP) — South Korea midfielder Son Jun-ho has been detained in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning on suspicion of accepting a bribe, China's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Son was placed in custody “recently” and was under investigation. The South Korean consulate in the provincial capital of Shenyang had been informed of Son’s detention and allowed access to the player as required by international treaty.

Son had been playing for the Chinese Super League's Shandong Taishan, and Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post said the bribery allegations concerned suspected match-fixing involving coach Hao Wei.

Wang gave no details on the timing or conditions of Son’s detention, but the Post said he was detained at an airport with his family on Friday while preparing to leave the country.

Lim Soo-suk, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said his government was providing Son with “necessary consular assistance” through the country’s local missions. He did not provide more details on Son’s situation, citing privacy reasons.

Chinese soccer has struggled for years to rid itself of a reputation for corruption among coaches, team owners, players, referees and government sports officials.

The league only just restarted after being shut down under pandemic restrictions, teams are in dire financial straits, and nearly a dozen high-profile figures have been arrested on corruption allegations, including former men's national coach Li Tie.

That comes despite a pledge by ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping to invest heavily to turn China into a soccer superpower. The drive has largely fallen flat, with the men's national team ranked 81st in the world and professional teams relying heavily on high-priced foreign players to draw audiences.

Son, 31, played seven seasons with South Korea's Pohang Steelers and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors before joining Shandong Taishan in 2021 on a four-year contract, according to industry website transfermarket.com. He has played for South Korea 18 times, including at last year's World Cup in Qatar.

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AP writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

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