Court upholds sentence for ex-Oxy headThe Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the lower court’s six-year sentence on Shin Hyun-woo, ex-chief of Oxy Reckitt Benckiser Korea, convicting him of accidental homicide due to professional negligence in sales of a deadly humidifier sterilizer accused of causing more than 70 deaths.
Citing a lack of evidence, the court maintained a not-guilty verdict for John Lee, a Korean-American who headed Oxy after Shin and who is the current president of Google Korea.
Shin, 69, was indicted in May 2016 on charges of ignoring the harmfulness of an Oxy antibacterial liquid additive used in household humidifiers, and selling it without due safety checks. He led the company from 1991 to 2005.
The Oxy disinfectants were sold in South Korea from 2001. The product’s risks first came to light in 2011 after some pregnant women died of unidentified lung ailments. Local authorities launched a probe and concluded that the deaths were caused by polyhexamethylene guanidine (PHMG), an antibacterial agent used in the humidifier sterilizer that can be fatal when inhaled.
Some 181 people have been affected by the toxicity of the product, 73 of whom died of a pulmonary disease, including children, between 2006 and 2011. Many of the survivors must breathe through a support device for the rest of their lives.
Shin was sentenced to seven years in jail by the lowest court. The appeals court commuted the sentence to six years, saying that a settlement had been reached between the company and the victims. It also cited a special law that was enacted by the government to provide relief to the victims and their families. The top court judged in line with the appellate court’s ruling.
The case has stirred a huge public uproar in Korea, with civic groups representing the victims filing a slew of complaints and the prosecution seeking a probe into a dozen other companies that sold similar products.