South Korean high court overturns sentence on Hyundai chief


South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered a lower court on Friday to rehear a corruption case against Hyundai Motor Co Chairman Chung Mong-koo. The decision could lead to a change in the sentence that enabled him to avoid imprisonment.


In September, the Seoul High Court sentenced Chung, 70, to a suspended prison term and ordered the tycoon to do public service after finding him guilty of embezzlement charges. That enabled Chung to run South Korea’s largest automaker without going to jail.


Prosecutors, however, filed an appeal, saying the lecture and writing duties ordered as part of ChungÕs sentence were not proper activities for sentences involving community service.


On Friday, the top court accepted the prosecutors’ argument and sent the case back to the high court, said Oh Seok-jung, a spokesman for the Supreme Court.


Oh said the court made the judgment only on whether the community service aspect of Chung’s sentence was appropriate. He added that the lower court should review the whole sentence for Chung because the public service order was made based on the suspended prison term.


That means it is technically possible for the lower court to change Chung’s sentence and send him to prison.


Hyundai Motor expressed disappointment at the top court’s decision.


“It is very unfortunate that this court case has still not been finalised, especially at a time we have so many pending business issues at hand,” Hyundai spokesman Jake Jang said. “We will review our options after we discuss the court’s ruling with our lawyers.”


In September, Chung received a three-year jail term suspended for five years, meaning he would not go to jail if he stays out of trouble during the period. The presiding judge said at the time that Chung was too important for the nation’s economy to go to prison.


He was also ordered to do public service in the form of delivering lectures and writing newspaper and magazine articles on lawful management, and to fulfill a promise to donate 1 trillion won ($1 billion; Dh368 billion) of his personal assets to society.

The Supreme Court also said that a financial donation cannot be a form of community service.


Chung was found guilty of charges that he embezzled the equivalent of more than $100 million (Dh368 million) in company money to set up a slush fund. Prosecutors said much of the fund was used to pay lobbyists to gain government favors and for personal use.


Investors appeared to shrug off the news of the Supreme Court ruling. Hyundai shares surged 4.7 per cent to close at 82,300 won ($84; Dh309.12). (AP)