SNU professor detained in Oxy case

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SNU professor detained in Oxy case

The Seoul Central District Court on Thursday found Cho Myung-haing, a Seoul National University professor, guilty of receiving bribes from Oxy Reckitt Benckiser and doling out favorable test results for its humidifier sterilizer, which killed at least 73 people.

The court detained the 57-year-old professor and sentenced him to 2 years in prison, 25 million won ($22,750) in fines and ordered him to return the 12 million won he received as bribes.

Cho’s test reports, which said, “the causal relations between Oxy-brand humidifier sterilizer and pulmonary illnesses are not clear,” were a critical source that the British-controlled company used in denying charges against it, according to prosecutors. Britain’s Reckitt Benckiser and Korea’s Oxy merged in 2001, and Reckitt Benckiser reportedly holds 100 percent of shares of Oxy Reckitt Benckiser.

In return for the favorable reports, Cho received 12 million won, which he called consultancy fees, from Oxy Reckitt Benckiser, and 56 million won from Seoul National University, for buying goods irrelevant to the research, the court confirmed.

“Cho received bribes from Oxy Reckitt Benckiser and violated the ethics of a researcher,” said a judge, “even though he is a national toxicology expert who is expected to hold social and ethical responsibility in high regard.”

During his investigations Cho argued through his lawyer that he had warned Oxy Reckitt Benckiser of the harmful effects of its humidifier sterilizer, but that the company manipulated the content of his reports. The court found the argument groundless.

The decision on Thursday was the first ruling among all cases concerning the humidifier sterilizer scandal, in which thousands claim to be victims. It was only in 2011 that the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first linked mysterious pulmonary illnesses from 2004 to the use of humidifier sterilizers.

The humidifiers themselves worked fine in regular water, but consumers believed that by adding sterilizers to the water they could prevent mold buildup.

After the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked pulmonary illnesses and deaths to humidifier sterilizers, the government conducted two epidemiological tests from 2013 to 2015, and two more surveys are ongoing.

According to prosecutors, Oxy Reckitt Benckiser killed at least 73 and sickened 108 more, its humidifier sterilizer having inflicted the highest number of casualties and injuries among all sterilizer products.

Next month, Seoul Central District Court will deliver its ruling on another university professor, a 61-year-old professor surnamed Yoo at Hoseo University, accused of writing favorable research reports for Oxy Reckitt Benckiser in return for bribes.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, KIM SEON-MI [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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