By Kim Tong-Hyung
SEOUL, South Korea — The South Korean women’s professional basketball league has permanently banned a star American player who prosecutors say forged birth documents to qualify to play in the domestic competition.
Women’s Korean Basketball League will also permanently remove the career statistics of Chelsey Lee, who played a major role in helping KEB Hana Bank’s run to the playoffs in the 2015-16 season, league spokesman Kim Ilku said on Wednesday.
The league also said it would annul the team’s records for the season, and scrap the rule allowing teams to sign extra foreign players if they have a Korean parent or grandparent.
The Miami-born Lee won the league’s rookie of the year honor for 2015-16 after averaging 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds for KEB Hana Bank, which entered the playoffs with the second-best regular season record and lost to Woori Bank in three games in the best-of-five finals. Lee later signed with the Washington Mystics in the WNBA but was waived shortly later, and hasn’t returned to South Korea.
South Korean prosecutors said last month that they concluded that Lee used fake documents to fraudulently claim a South Korean heritage before signing with KEB Hana Bank. They said the man listed as Lee’s father didn’t exist, and the daughter of a dead South Korean woman listed in the papers as Lee’s grandmother confirmed she didn’t have other children.
The league had originally planned to await a court ruling before determining the punishments for Lee and her former team. Kim said the league’s board members decided to proceed faster because they were confident about the prosecution’s investigation results.
The Ministry of Justice asked prosecutors to investigate Lee’s documents after the Korean Olympic Committee in April pushed for Lee’s naturalization so she could represent South Korea in international events.
WKBL teams can each have two foreign players who face limitations in playing minutes in each game. Teams, until last season, were also able to sign up to two extra foreign players if they had a parent or grandparent who was a South Korean national.