Lotte founder's family reunites - in the dock

The 94-year-old Lotte Group founder Shin Kyuk Ho and his sons - chairman Shin Dong Bin (left, above) and Shin Dong Joo - all wound up in court yesterday as their trial began. Members of the family have been embroiled in accusations of embezzlement, b
The 94-year-old Lotte Group founder Shin Kyuk Ho and his sons - chairman Shin Dong Bin and Shin Dong Joo - all wound up in court yesterday as their trial began. Members of the family have been embroiled in accusations of embezzlement, breach of trust, tax evasion and financial irregularities.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE
The 94-year-old Lotte Group founder Shin Kyuk Ho and his sons - chairman Shin Dong Bin (left, above) and Shin Dong Joo - all wound up in court yesterday as their trial began. Members of the family have been embroiled in accusations of embezzlement, b
The 94-year-old Lotte Group founder Shin Kyuk Ho and his sons - chairman Shin Dong Bin (above) and Shin Dong Joo - all wound up in court yesterday as their trial began. Members of the family have been embroiled in accusations of embezzlement, breach of trust, tax evasion and financial irregularities.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE
The 94-year-old Lotte Group founder Shin Kyuk Ho and his sons - chairman Shin Dong Bin (left, above) and Shin Dong Joo - all wound up in court yesterday as their trial began. Members of the family have been embroiled in accusations of embezzlement, b
The 94-year-old Lotte Group founder Shin Kyuk Ho and his sons - chairman Shin Dong Bin and Shin Dong Joo (above) - all wound up in court yesterday as their trial began. Members of the family have been embroiled in accusations of embezzlement, breach of trust, tax evasion and financial irregularities.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

SEOUL • The 94-year-old founder of Lotte Group, South Korea's fifth-largest conglomerate, threw his cane to the floor of a court yesterday and demanded to know where he was, on the first day of a trial involving him and several of his family members.

Shin Kyuk Ho appeared confused as he entered the court in a wheelchair and tried to resist aides' efforts to wheel him out, by dragging his feet.

He left after half an hour, owing to health reasons.

"Lotte is a company that I made. I have 100 per cent of the shares. Who indicted me?" the agitated Shin shouted upon his return to the courtroom, throwing down his cane.

His lawyer said that Shin denied the charges of embezzlement and breach of trust, as the first day of arguments got off to a dramatic start, with the judge asking him to be quiet and aides checking his blood pressure.

A previous judge had found him to have "limited" mental abilities and ordered a guardian for him.

Shin's two sons - Shin Dong Bin, 62, and Shin Dong Joo, 63 - were also in attendance as defendants yesterday.

Lotte chairman Shin Dong Bin is accused of costing the firm 175 billion won (S$219 million) through a series of tax evasions, financial scams and irregularities.

He has also been charged with negligence for awarding lucrative deals or paying "wages" worth millions of dollars to relatives who made little contribution to management.

"I am sorry for causing concern. I will cooperate with the trial sincerely," Shin Dong Bin told reporters, bowing briefly before entering the courtroom yesterday afternoon.

Similar charges were levelled against Shin Dong Joo, older sister Shin Young Ja, 74, and their father.

They have denied all the charges against them, which are not directly connected to the influence-peddling scandal that brought down then President Park Geun Hye.

Since the senior Shin ceded control of the business empire that he built, his two sons have been embroiled in a power struggle.

The two feuding brothers barely made any eye contact in the courtroom, even though they were sitting only a few feet apart.

Their sister, Shin Young Ja, was sentenced to three years in prison in January on separate charges of embezzlement and breach of trust.

Also facing trial is former actress Seo Mi Kyung, the senior Shin's common-law wife, who was accused of embezzlement for pocketing large sums in "wages" although she had little to do with management.

It was the first public appearance by the 57-year-old Seo, after decades spent trying to avoid media attention. She has denied any wrongdoing.

The court set March 27 for the next hearing in a trial that may last months before an initial verdict is reached. Lotte executives are set to appear next week.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'Lotte founder's family reunites - in the dock'. Print Edition | Subscribe