South Korea’s Lotte family owners go on trial for graft

Seoul: Four members of the family who control South Korea’s troubled retail giant Lotte, including its 93-year-old founder, went on trial on Monday for embezzlement, tax evasion and fraud.
The proceedings against company chairman Shin Dong-Bin, 61, his brother, sister and father — plus the patriarch’s mistress nearly 40 years his junior — come as the South’s fifth-biggest conglomerate endures a barrage of condemnation from China.
The company provided land to Seoul to host a US missile defence system, infuriating Beijing, and nearly 90 per cent of its Chinese Lotte Mart stores have since been forced to close by either authorities or angry demonstrations. The trial is the latest blow to the reputations of the family-controlled conglomerates, or “chaebols”, that powered South Korea’s economic growth in past decades.
More recently they have increasingly become the focus of public anger over corruption and inequality and corruption, as in the scandal that saw president Park Guen-Hye removed from office earlier this month.
Lotte chairman Shin is accused of costing the firm 175 billion won ($155 million) through a series of tax evasions, financial scams and irregularities. He has been also charged with negligence for awarding lucrative deals or paying “wages” worth millions of dollars to relatives who made little contribution to management.
“I am sorry for causing concern. I will cooperate with the trial sincerely,” Shin told reporters, bowing briefly before entering the courtroom Monday afternoon. Similar charges were levelled against his older brother Shin Dong-Joo, his older sister Shin Young-Ja, as well as their father Shin Kyuk-Ho.
It was not clear whether the nonagenarian founder was in court, but he did not pass through the gauntlet of reporters packing the entrance to the court building in Seoul.
His 57-year-old mistress was also charged with embezzlement for pocketing large sums in “wages” although she had little role in management. — AFP