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Son says former Hanbo chair died in Ecuador on the lam

June 25,2019
이미지뷰
Chung Han-keun, former vice chairman of the currently defunct Hanbo Group, arrives at Incheon International Airport on Saturday in handcuffs after 21 years on the run from an embezzlement probe. [NEWS1]
The son of the former chairman of a defunct Korean steel giant told local authorities that his father died last year in Ecuador while fleeing his embezzlement charges.

Prosecutors said Monday that the son, who was extradited to Korea last Saturday after spending 21 years as a fugitive in various foreign countries following his own embezzlement allegations, told them he was beside his father during his final moments.

The son is Chung Han-keun, 55, who formerly served as vice president of the currently defunct Hanbo Group. Chung’s father was Chung Tae-su, founder and former chairman of Hanbo. Prosecutors said they believe the son could be telling the truth given Chung Tae-su’s old age. The older Chung was 95 years old last year.

A prosecutor said on the condition of anonymity that authorities are searching for information to determine whether Hanbo’s founder actually died last year in Ecuador, adding that a formal announcement on the matter could be made this week at the earliest.

Best known for its flagship company Hanbo Steel, Hanbo Group was once the 14th largest conglomerate in Korea before a corruption scandal rocked Korea’s business and political circles in early 1997. The Hanbo scandal, also known as Hanbogate, revealed that the company borrowed trillions of won worth of non-performing loans, which was made possible by lobbying politicians and government officials.

The older Chung was sentenced in 1997 to 15 years in prison for offering large kickbacks to politicians in order to get 5.7 trillion won ($4.9 billion) in loans from banks. He was granted amnesty by the government in 2002.

In a separate embezzlement case in 2006, Chung Tae-su was sentenced to three years in prison during his first trial. While his second trial was ongoing the following year, he received permission to leave the country to receive medical treatment in Japan. He was supposed to return but did not.

Korean prosecutors have lost track of him since then. The former Hanbo chairman was sentenced to three years and six months in prison during his second trial, and the Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2009. That means if Chung Tae-su is alive and brought back to Korea, he would have to serve jail time.

In the embezzlement case, Chung Tae-su was found guilty of misappropriating 7.2 billion won worth of school funds from Gangneung Yeongdong University in Gangneung, Gangwon, where he served as chairman of the board of directors.

At one point during his life on the lam, Korean prosecutors believe the ex-Hanbo chairman lived in Kazakhstan and hired four nurses to take care of him, using the embezzled school funds to pay their salaries.

BY JEONG JIN-HO, JEONG EUN-HYE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]