Prosecutors to question Lotte founder at his office

September 8, 2016

SEOUL, Sept. 8 (Yonhap) — Prosecutors said Thursday they will question Lotte Group founder Shin Kyuk-ho at his office later in the day over a string of corruption allegations raised against the conglomerate.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said because of Shin’s health issues, its officials will carry out the questioning of the 93-year-old business tycoon at his office in Hotel Lotte in Seoul, starting at 3:30 p.m.

Prosecutors met with Shin the day before to examine his overall health. Shin, citing poor health, has been asking investigators to visit him to carry out their probe.

State prosecutors had originally summoned Shin to undergo questioning on Wednesday.

Shin is suspected of dodging some 600 billion won (US$550 million) in taxes in the process of donating a combined 6.2-percent stake in Lotte Holdings, held in borrowed names, to his third wife, her daughter and his eldest daughter Shin Young-ja in 2006. Lotte Holdings is Lotte’s de facto holding firm based in Tokyo.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Shin denied the allegations, saying he had ordered his employees to reduce the tax payment, not evade it, according to Shin’s spokesperson Thomas Hong.

“I will pay if anything (has been evaded unlawfully),” he was cited by Hong as saying.

Shin also claimed that the statute of limitation on the stock transfer issue has expired, according to the spokesperson.

Meanwhile, prosecutors said they have launched the procedures to summons his third wife, Seo Mi-kyung, from Japan, as she has been declining to respond to prosecutors’ summons.

“We have started discussing with the justice and foreign ministries the nullification of Seo’s passport,” a senior prosecutor said. He did not want to be named, citing office rules.

If she stays in Japan even after her passport is nullified, her status changes to that of an illegal immigrant, according to the prosecutor.

“If Lotte is a South Korean conglomerate that wishes to run a business here, the owner family should show an attitude respecting the country’s law and order,” he said. “What (the family) has shown so far makes me think that it lacks the law-abiding spirit.”

The prosecution has been investigating Lotte Group since early June over alleged slush funds, embezzlement and other irregularities.

Last week, a Seoul court designated a nonprofit subsidiary of a local law firm as legal guardian of the founder, saying he lacks the ability to make business decisions due to illness and old age.