Fugitive arrested upon his arrival

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Fugitive arrested upon his arrival

The former chairman of a now-defunct conglomerate returned to Korea on Saturday after four years living overseas in an attempt to avoid paying a massive fine for tax evasion and embezzlement.

He was taken straight into a prison labor house to pay off his fine.

However, reports that Huh Jae-ho, the former chairman of the now-disbanded Daeju Group, only has to work 49 days to pay off a 25.4 billion won ($23.5 million) fine promptly sparked a wave of public criticism aimed at the judicial branch.

Huh, 72, was convicted of tax evasion and embezzlement in 2011 by the Supreme Court, which handed down a two and a half year prison term (suspended for four years) and ordered him to pay a 25.4 billion won fine.

At the time, an appellate court set the value of mandatory daily labor in the labor house at 500 million won in order for Huh to work off his fine, a decision that drew wide public ridicule, with many wondering how the court had arrived at such a figure.

The minimum amount a court can set for daily labor is 50,000 won. A court has the authority to determine the amount of daily labor for a defendant, taking into consideration of the scale of the fine and the defendant’s age.

Given that Huh is advanced in years, it is expected that he will not be required to perform physically demanding labor at the prison. Rather, the likelihood is that the labor house will serve as a sort of house arrest until his fines are paid off.

The former businessman returned to Korea on Saturday after having spent years abroad in an attempt to evade authorities in Gwangju. The authorities recently began seizing properties held by Huh and his family members to collect unpaid taxes and his debts.

Reports that the former chairman was leading an extravagant lifestyle in New Zealand - for instance, gambling in the VIP room of a casino club in Auckland - also fueled public anger, prompting his return.

Huh fled to New Zealand in 2010 when he was standing trial on charges of embezzlement and tax fraud and had apparently been living a life of luxury there with permanent residency before his return over the weekend.

Putting aside the 25.4 billion won fine, the authorities are continuing to go after the former chairman’s unpaid taxes, which total 16 billion won, and are forcibly seizing his properties in order to pay off 23.3 billion won in financial debts.

Because of the significant amount Huh owes, there is a possibility that the disgraced businessman may not be freed even after paying off his fine by working.

The now-disbanded Daeju Group was once the country’s 52th-largest company by assets with 15 subsidiaries, adding to the local economic vibrancy of Gwangju and South Jeolla, where the company was headquartered.

The conglomerate fell apart in 2010 when Daeju Construction went bankrupt.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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