Chung Tae-soo, a former chaebol chief at the center of a 1990s corruption scandal that shook the country, might be dead, according to prosecutors Tuesday.
Chung founded and headed Hanbo Steel, Korea’s second-largest steelmaker, until the company went bankrupt in January 1997, some 5.7 trillion won ($5 billion) in debt, despite government-ordered bailout loans from banks. Hanbo’s fall set off a cascade of collapse of major conglomerates, including Kia Motors and Daewoo, triggering the beginning of the 1997 financial crisis in Korea.
Chung Tae-soo, former head of steelmaker Hanbo (Yonhap)
The former Hanbo head served five years of the 15-year prison term he received for embezzlement and bribery before he was released on a presidential pardon in 2002, only to be indicted again in 2007 for embezzling funds from a university where his daughter-in-law was a director. In May 2007, he left Korea for medical treatment with permission from the courts. He has not returned since.
Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said it had obtained possible evidence of Chung’s death from his eldest son, Chung Han-keun, who was extradited back to the country Saturday after 21 years on the run.
The junior Chung had stayed a fugitive since June 1998, when he fled a probe into allegations that he embezzled 32.2 billion won from a Hanbo Group subsidiary and stashed it in a secret Swiss bank account. He also owes 29.3 billion won in taxes. His brother Chung Bo-keun has outstanding taxes of 64.4 billion won.
The prosecutors’ office said Chung testified during a questioning Saturday that his father died Dec. 1 last year in Ecuador. He also submitted a death certificate and an urn containing his ashes for documentation.
If Chung is confirmed dead, the tax he owes -- 222.5 billion won -- will be difficult to collect, authorities say. Prosecutors are in the process of verifying claims of his death.
By Kim Arin (firstname.lastname@example.org