Lotte chief grilled in S. Korea graft probe

An unidentified man hurling documents at Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong Bin upon his arrival to the prosecutor's office in Seoul yesterday.
An unidentified man hurling documents at Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong Bin upon his arrival to the prosecutor's office in Seoul yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL • South Korean prosecutors have summoned Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong Bin, the most senior executive to face interrogation as part of a sweeping criminal probe at the country's fifth-largest conglomerate.

A live broadcast showed Mr Shin standing before a throng of reporters yesterday morning before entering the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' office building, where he was scheduled to be questioned by investigators probing allegations of slush funds, embezzlement and tax evasion.

Local media outlets estimate the amount involved be as much as 200 billion won (S$244 million).

As a boss at the time of the alleged crimes, Mr Shin, 61, is expected to be a key witness in the investigation that has already seen dozens of Lotte Group officials called in for questioning and company offices raided.

"I am sorry for causing concerns. I will sincerely cooperate with the prosecutors' investigation," Mr Shin told reporters before attending the closed-door session.

The summons came about three months after prosecutors raided Lotte Group offices and the houses of some executives on June 10 as part of the probe. It had been temporary halted last month after the group's vice-chairman Lee In Won was found dead hours before he was scheduled to be questioned.

The chairman's elder brother, Mr Shin Dong Joo, 62, was summoned on Sept 1 for alleged embezzlement, while prosecutors visited group founder Shin Kyuk Ho, 94, to question him for three days in consideration of his old age.

Ms Shin Young Ja, 74, the founder's eldest daughter, was detained and indicted in July for receiving kickbacks from local companies in return for offering business favours in the group's duty-free shops and department stores.

Mr Lee, the closest aide to Mr Shin Dong Bin, was found dead last month. His body was found hours before his appearance in the prosecutors' office. Police concluded that he had committed suicide.

Mr Shin is currently in control of the group, which had 103.3 trillion won in assets as of April.

He has been in a dispute with his elder brother over control of the group since last year.

The probe, which began in June, has already scuppered Hotel Lotte's planned US$4.5 billion (S$6.1 billion) IPO and hampered potential mergers and acquisitions deals.

A prosecution source, who declined to be identified as the probe is ongoing, said the investigation would likely reach a conclusion by early next month.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'Lotte chief grilled in S. Korea graft probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe