S Korean tycoon gets 18-month sentence

The head of a major South Korean conglomerate, the Hanwha Group, was sentenced Monday to 18 months in jail for the beating of a group of bar workers involved in a previous fight with his 22-year-old son.

Convictions of business leaders for white collar crimes are commonplace in South Korea; Chung Mong-koo, chairman of Hyundai Motor, is due to find out the result next week of his appeal of a February three-year sentence on embezzlement and other charges. But the Hanwha case has drawn extraordinary attention in South Korea because of the physical violence involved.

Kim Seung-youn, chairman of Hanwha, the country’s 12th biggest conglomerate, was convicted of ordering the attack on six employees of an upscale bar, who had been embroiled in a fight with his son, Dong-won, a Yale University student.

According to evidence given in court, Mr Kim’s bodyguards confronted the bar workers in March and forcibly took them to a construction site on a mountain outside Seoul, where the business leader punched, kicked and attacked them with a steel pipe.

The 55-year-old tycoon, who was been in jail since his May 11 arrest, initially denied any involvement but later admitted to some of the actions. He said during the trial that he ordered his bodyguards to take over when he was “too tired” of beating the bar workers.

Mr Kim’s responsibility for the crime was “heavy”, said Judge Kim Chul-hwan of the Seoul Central District Court, as the chairman has used his status and wealth to retaliate against the bar staff.

“The accused took advantage of his social position, personal wealth and the organisation of his company to mount a personal vendetta,” the judge said. “This constitutes a serious breach of law.”

Although it marks a departure from the usual corporate crimes, the case has again exposed the cosy links between business and authorities in South Korea.

The police were accused of being slow to act on the allegations, with the case not pursued until details emerged on the internet two months after the initial attack. There have also been allegations of links between senior police officials and Hanwha lobbyists. The former Seoul police station chief is being investigated for abusing his power and neglecting his duty by trying to cover up the case.

One of Mr Kim’s bodyguards and a Seoul bar owner who participated the assault were given suspended 10-month and six-month jail terms respectively Monday.

Hanwha has Won18,000bn ($19bn) in assets and more than 20 business units, ranging from insurance, telecommunications and retailing to construction, chemicals and manufacturing. It began as a gunpowder manufacturer, with Mr Kim nicknamed “Firecracker Kim” and his father, who started the group, known as “Dynamite Kim”.

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