Lotte chairman Shin Dong-bin freed as court suspends corruption sentence

Lotte Group chief Shin Dong-bin had been jailed in February 2018 for corruption. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - A Seoul appeals court released Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin from jail after suspending a bribery and embezzlement sentence that had created a leadership vacuum atop the South Korean retail giant for almost eight months.

The Seoul High Court on Friday (Oct 5) said the 30-month sentence was suspended for four years.

Shin had been convicted following a series of probes into the retail-to-chemicals giant, including a bribery investigation that led to the departure of former president Park Geun-hye.

The suspension follows a court decision earlier this year to release Samsung Electronics vice-chairman Jay Y. Lee, heir apparent to the country's biggest conglomerate, after convicting him on white-collar crime charges, including bribing Park.

South Korea's family-run conglomerates have faced rising pressure from a government that has vowed to weed out corruption at the groups and support minority shareholder rights.

Lotte will work to become a company committed to social responsibility and devoted to the national economy, Lotte Corp said in a statement following the decision on Friday.

A series of government probes into corruption allegations against Lotte executives led to convictions including the group's founder Shin Kyuk-ho and his younger son Shin Dong-bin. The elder son Shin Dong-joo was acquitted.

Lotte Group, which had about US$100 billion (S$138 billion) of assets as of 2017, had been under investigation since 2015 when a family feud over control erupted into public view. Amid the rivalry between Shin Dong-bin and Shin Dong-joo, allegations of bribery and other corruption emerged, sparking the probe.

The intensifying regulatory scrutiny and investigations have stymied the company's global expansion, leading to cancellations of a potential US$4.5 billion IPO of a hotel unit and a bid for chemicals-maker Axiall Corp in 2016.

Shin Dong-bin became the largest individual shareholder of the group's main holding company Lotte Corp, with a 10.5 per cent stake, after a sweeping reorganisation last year that helped consolidate his control by sidelining his older brother.

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