Tuesday, Aug 05, 2003
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By P. S. Suryanarayana
The local police force is reported to be proceeding on the assumption that Mr. Chung had committed suicide by leaping from the 12th floor of his office. An apparent suicide note by him did not, however, shed light on why he chose to die, it was said.
The South Korean President, Roh Moo-hyun, expressed sorrow over the 55-year-old Mr. Chung's death and pledged to carry forward the ongoing process of inter-Korean economic cooperation. Mr. Roh was quoted as saying that "the Government will make positive efforts so that the inter-Korean economic projects will proceed as intended by the deceased".
Mr. Roh noted that Mr. Chung had "contributed greatly to the South-North economic cooperation projects such as the Mt. Geumgang tourism business and the construction of Gaeseong industrial complex". Such sentiments on the need to sustain inter-Korean economic links did not quite conceal the political climate in which Mr. Chung's death occurred. Cross-border economic projects in the divided Korean peninsula were indeed pioneered by Mr. Chung's late father, Chung Ju-yung. The junior Chung later spearheaded the movement for such cooperation between the two politically divergent countries.
Heading Hyundai Asan, Mr. Chung, his father's heir-apparent for corporate matters, promoted investments in and trade with the DPRK. It was in that role he found himself indicted in June this year for alleged "false accounting" with regard to what has come to be known in South Korea as the "cash-for-summit scandal". At the core of the scandal was the suspected "secret transfer" of $500 millions to the DPRK. It came to light during an independent judicial inquiry that at least $100 millions might have been transferred to the DPRK to secure its consent for a historic inter-Korean summit that actually took place in 2000.
Kim Dae-jung, the then South Korean President, who met the DPRK leader, Kim Jong-il, was today reported to have expressed shock over Mr. Chung's death. At the time of his death today, Mr. Chung faced the grim prospect of a jail term of up to three years if found guilty of the charges against him. Aside from the "cash-for-summit scandal" that cast a shadow over South Korea's "sunshine policy" of constructive engagement with the DPRK, Mr. Chung was also under investigation in connection with his firm's alleged involvement in slush funds. He was summoned by prosecutors three times in the past one month, most recently on Sunday.
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