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Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Court suspends Hyundai chairman's prison term


Hyundai Motor Co chairman Chung Mong-koo leaves after his trial at the Seoul High Court yesterday.


An appeals court yesterday suspended a three-year prison term handed to Hyundai Motor Co chairman Chung Mong-koo for embezzlement, saying the tycoon is too important for South Korea's economy to go to jail.

A three judge panel at the Seoul High Court suspended the sentence for five years, meaning that Chung will avoid prison as long as he keeps a clean record.

A lower court had sentenced Chung in February for embezzling the equivalent of more than US$100 million in company money to set up a slush fund. Prosecutors say the fund was used to pay lobbyists to gain government favors and for personal use.

"Defendant Chung Mong-koo is seen as a symbol of Hyundai Motor,'' Presiding Judge Lee Jae-hong told the packed courtroom, adding that Chung is a hands-on leader of the company, the world's sixth-largest automaker.

"I am also a citizen of the Republic of Korea ... I was unwilling to engage in a gamble that would put the [nation's economy] at risk," Lee said.

In his appeal, Chung asked the court that he be allowed to avoid prison to devote his energies to the company and contribute to South Korea's economy.

Prosecutors sought a six-year prison term -- the same as their original demand -- saying the February decision was not harsh enough for the crime.

"We are greatly relieved that this matter is finally over," Hyundai said in a statement. ``We can now devote our full energies to addressing the numerous challenges that face us and building a global brand.''

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