A life cut shortLotte Group Vice Chairman Lee In-won was found dead on a hiking trail in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi, Friday morning, a few hours before he was to be questioned by prosecutors on allegations of irregularities committed by the conglomerate and owner family. Police concluded that the 69-year-old executive, the second highest in rank at Lotte after the chairman, had hanged himself.
Lee held a high reputation in the group, having earned his way to the top office overseeing the group’s policies after joining the Lotte company in 1973. He was the closest confidante to group founder Shin Kyuk-ho and his son and present chairman Shin Dong-bin, helping to build Lotte into a top conglomerate in Korea. The exact motive for his extreme action is unknown, but it is sad that a man of his age had to end his own life.
His death came as prosecutors clamped down on the entire groups operations and family members. Investigators had finished questioning employees from the management to executive level, and they had summoned Lee for the last interrogation before confronting the Shin family on a number of charges including hiding slush funds and evading taxes. Although Lee did not come under prosecution questioning, we can imagine the amount of pressure he must have been under.
The prosecution cannot come under criticism for forced or dehumanizing questioning, as Lee took his own life before he could enter the interrogation room. But public confidence in the prosecution is already low, with suspicious implications in the corruption cases of former prosecutors Jin Kyung-joon and Woo Byung-woo, currently the president’s senior civil affairs secretary, who are both suspected of a number of wrongdoings.
Some believe Lotte Group has come under political target for its cozy ties with the former administration. The prosecution can only prove the rumors wrong through a fair and speedy investigation.
Lotte Group must also be aware that it brought the mishap upon itself. The conglomerate has come under a disgraceful spotlight for its shady ownership structure and family feud. Its troubles have proven to be tragic not only for the enterprise and national economy but also for individual lives.
The chairman must accelerate reforms in the company’s governance structure and rebuild its reputation as a responsible enterprise. It is the only way to compensate the deceased Lee after he devoted his entire career and life to the group.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 27, Page 26