Hanwha chair lands in hospital during jail stint

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Hanwha chair lands in hospital during jail stint

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Kim Seung-youn

A local court in Seoul yesterday ruled to temporarily release Kim Seung-youn, chairman of Hanwha Group, who has been in critical condition while in jail since he was charged with a breach of trust and embezzlement.

The Seoul High Court announced yesterday it would suspend his prison sentence because “his health is in critical condition.”

The judge said the suspension will be between Jan. 8 and March 7, at 2 p.m., and Kim is restricted to staying at designated local hospitals.

Kim, 61, who owns Korea’s 10th- largest conglomerate, was sentenced to a four-year prison term and a 5.1 billion won ($4.8 million) fine at his first trial in August. He was convicted of using Hanwha’s money to pay back the debts of companies that he ran under borrowed names and incurring losses to the group by selling stakes to his family at cheaper prices. Kim was sent to prison immediately after the verdict was read.

However, in mid-December of last year, Kim suddenly collapsed in his cell. Since then, he has been hospitalized in the Seoul National University Boramae Hospital. In the five months he was jailed, he gained weight, from 75 kilograms to 100 kilograms (220 pounds), due to unknown reasons and he suffered from respiratory problems. He is currently breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

“His condition is really critical, at risk of sudden death by pneumonia or sepsis,” a doctor at the hospital told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday. “As a doctor, I can say Kim is not faking it.”

Kim’s aides told reporters that his diabetes and long-term depression could have worsened due to the imprisonment. On Dec. 4, the Seoul Southern Prison, in Guro District, southwestern Seoul, asked the court to halt the detention, because of his precarious condition. Kim was too ill to appear at an appellate suit scheduled for Monday.

If Kim doesn’t get better after the designated period, the court will determine whether to extend the duration or not. Owing to the chairman’s five-month vacancy, the Hanwha Group has had setbacks in its overall businesses. The group has yet set up its new year’s business plan and made little progress in its large-scale projects or investments, including the $80 billion city development project in Besmaya, Iraq, the biggest foreign bid ever for a Korean conglomerate.

The group’s solar business is also sluggish. In 2012, Hanwha merged with German photovoltaic company Q-Cells, but the group is having trouble negotiating with its partners, the German and the Malaysian governments, without its chairman. The newly-launched Hanwha Q-Cells is thought to have operated at a deficit of nearly 33 billion won in 2012, a Tongyang Securities’ report said on Monday.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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