[EDITORIALS]Questions for a fugitiveKim Woo-choong, founder and former chairman of Daewoo Group, ended five years and eight months on the run yesterday, when he returned to Korea to face investigation for accounting fraud and illegal bank loans. Prosecutors intend to seek an arrest warrant soon, which raises the question of how much of Mr. Kim’s alleged improprieties will be exposed.
As it stands, he is accused of committing accounting fraud totaling 41 trillion won ($40 billion), of using the fabricated books to secure 10 trillion won in bank loans and of misallocating $20 billion of Daewoo funds overseas. At the center of this case, though, is whether Mr. Kim used a political connection to obtain the loans, and to make his getaway.
Suspicions in this regard have been amplified by Mr. Kim’s reported statement to a foreign journalist, while in hiding overseas, that then-President Kim Dae-jung had advised him to leave the country for a short period of time.
It seems highly likely that the Daewoo founder would have aggressively lobbied politicians to keep the conglomerate from being split up; it is hard to imagine that he would sit around and do nothing in Daewoo’s moment of crisis.
Prosecutors have already discovered that Daewoo managed $20 billion through a secret financial organization in England. But since it is unclear what most of that money was used for, the possibility that some of it was spent on bribes should not be dismissed.
Both Mr. Kim’s hidden assets and his behind-the-scenes supporters, if any, should be revealed. In July of 1999, Mr. Kim said he would turn over his fortune to be used as collateral in a financial restructuring plan for Daewoo.
This means Mr. Kim should be flat broke. Yet he has spent years traveling in Germany, Sudan, France and Vietnam. Obviously, this would be impossible without hidden assets, or someone who was helping him.
What’s more, Mr. Kim has been on Interpol’s wanted list since 2001. His apparent freedom to travel from country to country since then has given rise to rumors that the authorities were reluctant to arrest him.
It would not be appropriate to bring up Mr. Kim’s appeal at this point. That issue should be considered only after a strict inquiry into Mr. Kim’s legal obligations. If he has come back to take responsibility for the Daewoo crisis, he should tell the truth, publicly.