| Chung Mong-hun. (AFP)
Seoul, Aug. 4 (Reuters): A top Hyundai group executive, enmeshed in a payments scandal over a landmark summit between North and South Korea, leapt to his death from a high-rise office building today, police said.
Chung Mong-hun, 54, jumped from the 12th floor of the Hyundai building in central Seoul some time after midnight and died around 1700 GMT yesterday, police said.
“I ask you all to forgive me for committing this foolish thing,” Chung said in one of the suicide notes found in his office from where he is believed to have jumped, domestic media said. They reported the notes did not say why he committed suicide. “This foolish person has committed a foolish thing,” he wrote in another note.
The fifth son of the late Chung Ju-yung, who founded what was once South Korea’s largest business conglomerate, Chung was chairman of the unlisted Hyundai Asan Co that spearheads South Korean business projects in North Korea.
He had been facing trial on charges of violating foreign currency regulations in connection with the secret transfer of $500 million to the north before the historic June 2000 summit.
President Roh Moo-hyun, who five months ago took over a country faced with a slowing economy and an escalating crisis over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, praised Chung’s work in promoting ties with North Korea.
“Regardless of his death, I will try my best to advance current North-South Korea business projects, which must go forward without interruption,” presidential spokesperson Yoon Tae-young quoted Roh as saying in a statement.
Chung’s firm issued a statement saying: “He felt sorry to the Korean people because of the allegations related to the payment of funds from the company to North Korea.”
Media reported Chung, a frequent visitor to North Korea, had requested his ashes be scattered at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort in the north where Hyundai operated ferry tours offering South Koreans a rare chance to visit the Communist state. Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his “Sunshine Policy” of reconciliation with the north, but the business deals and other exchanges with the north envisioned at the Pyongyang summit have been floundering over diplomatic disputes with Seoul’s ally, Washington.
Hyundai Asan did break ground in June on a long-delayed $180 million industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong.
The “cash-for-summit” scandal, which broke in February, has ensnared several top aides to former President Kim Dae-jung. Government investigators said $500 million in secret payments were funnelled to North Korea from Hyundai Asan with the help of Kim’s aides.
At the time, the opposition controlled parliament and a reconciliation with North Korea — which remains technically at war with the South — was controversial.
Hyundai and government officials said $400 million was used to secure monopoly rights for business and tourism ventures in North Korea. But $100 million was sent just days before Kim met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in June.