Lee In-won, 69, Vice Chairman of Korea’s 5th largest corporation, Lotte Group, hangs himself as criminal probe heats up
In-won had been scheduled to appear before prosecutors, Friday, as officials investigate allegations of a possible slush fund and breach of trust involving transactions among the group’s companies
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Cause of death has been ruled suicide, a “typical case of death by hanging,” according to police
Lotte Group Vice Chairman Lee In-won in Seoul, South Korea, December last year
Sout Korean giant, Lotte Group confirmed the death of 69-year-old Vice Chairman Lee In-won, which comes after the group was riven by a family succession feud last year and subjected in June to widespread raids by government prosecutors.
Lee In-won was one of the top executives at South Korea’s Lotte Group was found dead Friday, a suspected suicide, hours before he was to be questioned by prosecutors conducting a criminal probe into one of the country’s largest business enterprises.
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Lotte is Korea’s fifth-largest conglomerate and is considered one of Korea’s family-run “chaebols” which are known to have complex ownership structures.
Lee had been with the group for 43 years and was the most senior executive outside the Shin family that controls the conglomerate. He was also, a longtime CEO of Lotte Shopping, one of the group’s biggest businesses.
lately he was caught in the middle of official allegations that that money moved invisibly, [read illegally], between the 60 subsidiaries, and from company accounts to personal accounts of family members.
The police said Lee’s body was found Friday morning under a tree along a walking and cycling path near Seoul. They said he had left home around 10 p.m. Thursday. A four-page note was found in the executive’s car parked nearby.
An autopsy showed Lee’s death appeared to be a “typical case of death by hanging,” which appeared to be suicide, police said.
A loyal servant of the family and the company, privy to its secrets, a four-page suicide note found in his car parked nearby apparently exonorates chairman Shin Dong-bin, saying the chairman for whom he worked was innocent of wrong-doing.
Detectives from Yangpyeong police inspect Lee In-won’s car
“When I arrived after the call, the deceased was lying down, crouched here,” Hyung Dae-ryong, Seojong precinct police station chief, told reporters gathered at the site.
Police report the deceased, wearing shorts and a black windbreaker, appeared to have hung himself from a tree with a necktie, a maroon umbrella with the Lotte logo was found nearby.
Vice Chairman In-won’s body was found hanging along this cycling path in Yangpyeong, South Korea
Lee was the top lieutenant of Chairman Shin Dong-bin, who last year fought off a bitter challenge from his older brother for control of the 68-year-old comglomerate.
The Lotte Group was founded by Shin Kyuk-ho, 93, as a maker of chewing gum, Lotte now owns properties in the beverage, hotel, fast food and financial services sectors, among others.
An official statement from the company said:“He [Lee] oversaw Lotte Group’s overall housekeeping and core businesses and accurately understood the minds of Chairman-in-Chief Shin Kyuk-ho and Chairman Shin Dong-bin to be carried out well in subsidiary companies,”
Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin and Vice Chairman Lee In-won attend croporate event for Lotte Miso Microcredit Bank in Seoul.
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Lee was also engaged in finding new growth opportunities for Lotte, the group said.
A prosecution team of about 200 people raided Lotte offices in June, looking into a possible slush fund as well as breach of trust involving transactions among the group’s companies, sources said at the time.
Lee, who was had been scheduled to appear before prosecutors Friday morning, and his death could force prosecutors to reconsider the schedule for the ongoing probe.
Lotte Group Vice Chairman, Lee In-won, hung himself in the midst of corporate crises
The investigation into Lotte had already exacted a devastating toll on its business, which ranges from hotels to retail to chemicals. Its Hotel Lotte unit was forced in June to shelve an initial public offering to raise up to $4.73 billion, which would have made it the world’s largest this year.
Also in June, its Lotte Chemical unit withdrew from bidding for US-based Axiall Corp., citing its difficulties in South Korea. Rival Westlake Chemical ended up with a $2.33 billion deal for Axiall.