South Korean prosecution confirms death of ex-head of Hanbo Group in Ecuador

Photo Courtesy: UPI

SEOUL, July 5 (UPI) — The prosecution concluded Thursday that Chung Tae-soo, former head of the now-defunct Hanbo Group, died in December in Ecuador, where he was hiding after fleeing South Korea while standing trial on embezzlement charges.

His death came to light as Chung Han-keun, a son of Chung, was extradited to South Korea in June after he was captured in Panama following 21 years of living overseas to escape a corruption charge.

The prosecution said the Ecuadorean government had confirmed as authentic a document proving Chung’s death that Han-keun submitted to the Korean prosecution during its probe.

Hanbo Group, once the 14th-largest conglomerate, declared bankruptcy in January 1997 due to mounting debt.

Chung, then-group chairman, was found guilty of bribing dozens of politicians and bankers to pressure banks to extend huge loans to his group.

Prosecutors have been verifying the testimony by Han-keun about his father’s death. Separately, they identified that Chung’s death was registered at Ecuador’s immigration agency and an office of residents’ information.

They also secured footage of Chung’s funeral and pictures showing the scene of putting his body into a coffin. Those pictures were sent to family members living in Korea to inform them of his death.

Prosecutors secured some 150 pages of memos that Chung was presumed to have written until 2015 after he fled Korea. They mostly contained descriptions about him doing business in the past.

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He escaped South Korea in May 2007 while standing trial for embezzling some $6.2 million (7 billion won) in funds from a college for which he served as a board chief.

He received a suspension of an overseas travel ban by claiming that he needed medical treatment in Japan. But instead of Japan, he left for Malaysia before moving to Kazakhstan the following year. Later, he moved to Kyrgyzstan and eventually settled in Ecuador in 2010.

In 2009, a Korean court sentenced Chung to a prison term of three and a half years even though he was not in Korea.

With a disguised name, Chung lived in the Latin American country, where he appears to have sought an oil exploration project, the prosecution added.

Following his death, it will be impossible for the tax agency to retrieve some $190.3 million in back taxes.

Han-keun, the fourth son of Chung, faces allegations that he embezzled$27.54 million from a subsidiary of Hanbo Group and stashed it in a secret Switzerland-based bank account.

He fled Korea in June 1998 and testified to the prosecution that he had taken care of his father in Ecuador since 2015.

The prosecution and the tax agency said they will seek to retrieve secret assets Han-keun hid overseas. He has not paid $25 million in state taxes so far.

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