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Hyundai Chief, on Trial, Commits Suicide

August 4, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ A senior executive of South Korea’s Hyundai conglomerate, who was embroiled in a scandal over a historic 2000 summit between the two Koreas, committed suicide Monday, police said.

Chung Mong-hun was on trial on charges stemming from allegations his company helped former President Kim Dae-jung’s government secretly pay North Korea $100 million to get Pyongyang to agree to the summit. Chung was indicted for allegedly doctoring company books to hide the money transfers.

Chung jumped from his 12th-floor office of the Hyundai headquarters building in central Seoul, said a police officer who only gave his last name, Park.

A Hyundai spokeswoman, Lee Mi-kyong, confirmed the death.

Chung’s body was first found on the ground by his female secretary and reported to police at about 5:50 a.m., Park said. The preliminary investigation showed that Chung apparently jumped from his office four or five hours before his body was found, he said.

Chung is a son of Chung Ju-young, the late founder of the giant Hyundai conglomerate, and currently leads Hyundai-Asan, a Hyundai subsidiary that runs a series of joint ventures with communist North Korea. Chung’s official title is chairman of Hyundai-Asan’s board of directors.

The mammoth Hyundai, which used to be South Korea’s largest conglomerate, was divided into three subgroups in the aftermath of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis: one controlled by Hyundai Motor, South Korea’s No. 1 carmaker; the second led by Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world’s largest shipbuilding company; and the third comprising the remainder of the former conglomerate and under the stewardship of Chung Mong-hun.

Unlike the other two subgroups, Chung Mong-hun’s company has been serious financial strains. Chung Mong-hun has hoped that his North Korean ventures, first initiated by his late father, would eventually prosper and help his company recover.

Chung Mong-hun was indicted in June for falsifying company books. If convicted, he could have faced up to three years in prison.

An independent counsel appointed by President Roh Moo-hyun to investigate the summit scandal announced in June that Hyundai-Asan sent $500 million to North Korea, but he called $400 million of that an investment by the company. The rest was raised and sent by Hyundai on behalf of the government, he said.

All the money was sent to Pyongyang through Hyundai-Asan shortly before the June 2000 summit, former President Kim’s crowning achievement, which helped him win the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize, the investigator said.

Independent counsel Song Doo-hwan did not characterize the cash transfer as a payoff for the inter-Korean summit, but he said the government ``aid″ for North Korea was related to the meeting and had been sent secretly through improper channels.

So far, eight former government officials and Hyundai officials have been indicted in the case. If convicted, some could face up to five years in prison.

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