Motor Group Chairman Chung Mong-Koo has been granted bail by the Seoul District Court, which reportedly cites concerns his arrest could have a negative impact on South Korea’s economy by “causing a management vacuum at Hyundai Motor.”
Motor Co. Ltd. and affiliate Kia Motors Corp. account for more than 70% of the country’s vehicle exports, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Hyundai unions began a 4-day partial strike June 26 seeking higher wages and better working conditions. A company spokesman tells Reuters the chairman now will direct negotiations.
Chung, 68, who based part of his appeal on frail health exacerbated by his incarceration, was to undergo an immediate medical checkup before returning to work, media reports say. His bail was set at 1 billion won ($1.04 million).
Chung has been held in prison since April 28. He was indicted May 16 for his role in creating a 96 billion won ($100 million) illegal slush fund by embezzling money from affiliates and for breach of trust. Since then, two new breach of trust indictments have been filed against him.
The money allegedly was used to bribe government officials for company favors.
At a June 12 hearing, the chairman appeared in court in a wheelchair, citing ill health and taking partial responsibility for the slush fund while denying having any direct knowledge or involvement in the funds.
On June 14, Chung filed a petition saying he took full responsibility for the raising of an illegal slush fund and admitted he authorized his officers to develop the fund.
Observers said at the time the petition was a further maneuver by lawyers to secure their client’s release and not a spontaneous expression of contrition by the industrialist.
In the Korean court system, bail rarely is granted to a defendant who refuses to acknowledge responsibility for the charges against him. Such an individual, the courts generally believe, is more likely to flee or damage evidence against him than a person who admits his complicity.
Prosecutors have argued against Chung’s release, alleging he would interfere with their continuing investigation. To date, 15 government and Hyundai officials have been charged in the case.
Chung’s next court hearing will be July 10.