South Korean tycoon can't use jail work to pay off $30m fine for embezzlement, tax evasion

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean prosecutors on Wednesday overturned a controversial landmark ruling allowing a convicted property mogul to pay off a multimillion-dollar fine with 49 days of prison labour, a report said.

Seoul's Supreme Court sparked outrage in 2011 when it ruled that former Daeju group head Huh Jae Ho would be able to undertake the jail work rather than paying 25.4 billion won (S$30 million) following a conviction for embezzlement and tax evasion.

Local media at the time said the treatment of the now 71-year-old was typical of the South Korean judicial system's leniency towards business tycoons who have erred on the wrong side of the law.

But the prosecutors office Wednesday said Huh, who recently returned to South Korea after four years on the run, would soon be released from prison and forced to pay the fine, Yonhap news agency reported.

Daeju, a business group with 15 subsidiaries, collapsed in 2010 when its main construction business went bankrupt due to a slump in property markets.

Huh was convicted on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement with a court handing down a suspended sentence and giving him the choice of the fine or prison labour.

But the disgraced tycoon fled abroad shortly afterwards to avoid either.

On Saturday he was sent to prison in the southern city of Gwangju after returning home voluntarily from his exile in New Zealand.

Huh has been doing eight hours of work a day since, including making paper shopping bags, tofu and furniture, according to Yonhap, but now he will have to stump up the fine.

South Korean businessmen have often got off lightly for criminal convictions, with courts referencing their contribution to the economy as a reason for leniency.

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