SK exec arrested in sterilizer case

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SK exec arrested in sterilizer case

An executive of SK Chemicals has been arrested on the charge of destroying evidence on the toxicity of raw materials for humidifier sterilizers supplied to other local companies, court officials said Friday.

The Seoul Central District Court reviewed arrested warrants requested for three executives and one employee of the SK Group affiliate amid prosecutors’ expanding investigation into the humidifier sterilizer scandal and approved one, for Park Cheol, senior vice president of SK Chemicals.

Arrest warrants for three other officials were not granted by the court. The four officials appeared before the Seoul court on Thursday for a hearing on the legality of their arrest warrants.

Judge Song Kyung-ho put 53-year-old Park under arrest, saying his criminal charges were confirmed and there is a chance that the suspect may destroy evidence.

Earlier, Seoul prosecutors requested an arrest warrant for the four on charges of covering up data on the toxicity of humidifier cleaner raw materials manufactured by the SK company.

SK Chemicals, which was renamed SK Discovery in a group-wide restructuring in 2017, manufactured key ingredients of humidifier sterilizers supplied to Oxy Reckitt Benckiser Korea and Aekyung Industrial, whose disinfectant products caused the deaths of about 100 consumers in South Korea.

Between 2006 and 2011, 73 people, including children and a pregnant woman, died of pulmonary disease, with a total of 181 consumers affected by the toxicity of a humidifier disinfectant sold by Oxy. The Supreme Court confirmed a six-year prison term for former Oxy chief Shin Hyun-woo last year on charges of accidental homicide due to professional negligence.

Aekyung’s Humidifier Mate, produced between 2002 and 2012 with raw materials supplied by SK Chemicals, was accused of making 128 consumers sick and killing 27 of them.

Prosecutors suspect the SK officials had attempted to conceal company documents on the toxicity of Humidifier Mate raw materials like chloromethylisothiazolinone (CMIT) and methylisothiazolinone (MIT) since 2013.

In a raid on company headquarters in Seoul conducted last Jan. 15, prosecutors found circumstances suggesting that the four officials were involved in the destruction of the company’s research documents on the toxicity of CMIT and MIT after the humidifier scandal erupted in 2011.

In a related move, two former executives of Aekyung Industrial were arrested by prosecutors last month on charges of destroying evidence.

A group representing the victims of the deadly disinfectant scandal lodged their first complaint against SK Chemicals and Aekyung Industrial in August 2016, but the prosecution dropped the charges, citing a lack of evidence that the chemicals used in the Aekyung product were harmful enough to have caused the deaths.

Prosecutors recently resumed the investigation after the Ministry of Environment submitted findings acknowledging a possible correlation.

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