Lotte’s 50th anniversary is its most troubled

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Lotte’s 50th anniversary is its most troubled

Lotte World Tower, the gigantic high-rise in southeastern Seoul, opens to the public today, nearly three decades after Shin Kyuk-ho, the founder of Lotte Group, laid out a plan to erect the country’s highest skyscraper in the Jamsil area - and use it as a magnet to attract tourists from around the world.

It was a long-cherished project of Shin that was faithfully executed by his second son Shin Dong-bin, the group’s chairman.

The inauguration of Korea’s tallest tower - and the world’s fifth-tallest - coincides with the group’s 50th anniversary. The group was founded in 1967 with Lotte Confectionery, which makes gum, candy and biscuits.

The finishing of the tower and anniversary are overshadowed by trouble within the group and outside. Shin’s family is facing allegations of embezzlement and breach of trust, which emerged during a family feud over the control of the group between Shin Dong-bin and his older brother Shin Dong-joo in 2015.

Lotte Group was embroiled in the political scandal that led to the impeachment and removal of President Park Geun-hye. Lotte and other groups are accused of making donations to nonprofit organizations run by Park and her close friend Choi Soon-sil that amounted to bribes.

Outside Korea, the group’s Chinese business - in which it has invested 10 trillion won ($8.94 billion) - is being targeted by Beijing for retribution after Lotte swapped a golf course for a plot of government land. The golf course will be the new home of an antimissile defense system that Beijing thinks will be used to spy on its activity.

Some 90 of its 99 supermarkets in China have had to close. The so-called Lotte Town Project, a 3-trillion-won development plan in Shenyang, Liaoning, has been indefinitely suspended.

Lotte Duty Free, the nation’s No. 1 duty-free business, is suffering. Some 60 percent of its customers were Chinese and Beijing has suspended tour groups to Korea.

Lotte Group Chairman Shin has tried to appear unshaken.

In February, he carried out a massive reshuffle, abolishing the strategy planning department - which was notorious for the kind of under-the-table business practices that may have landed the group in hot water with the former president. Despite ongoing retaliation by the Chinese government, Lotte continues to search for new business opportunities in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Lotte World Tower is at the center of Shin’s ambitions.

The group expects the tower will lure in an average of 5 million tourists every year until 2021. Aside from tourists, the tower is expected to attract 50 million visitors that will contribute in vitalizing the local economy.

The group invested 4.1 trillion won in the project but the company said it expects 10 trillion won in economic effects yearly and hopes to provide jobs to more than 20,000.

“Lotte World Tower will be remembered as a symbolic establishment of Korea,” said Shin Dong-bin.

“It will act as an engine to invigorate Korea’s economy by generating economic effect and employment,” he added.

Celebrating the grand opening, Lotte World Tower was scheduled to fire some 30,000 fireworks from 750 locations around the tower on Sunday for 11 minutes starting at 9 p.m.

BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]

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