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Late-chairman Cornered by Managerial Difficulties and Appropriation Investigations

Late-chairman Cornered by Managerial Difficulties and Appropriation Investigations

Posted August. 04, 2003 21:53,   


Why did Chung Mong-hun, chairman of Hyundai Asan Group, choose to die? And why did he choose the extreme method of throwing himself out of his office window in the early morning hours of August 4?

The late-chairman left holograph wills. However, the wills do not state the exact reasons or motivation for his suicide. Close associates assume that the initial cause must have been the continuous stress he was under from a series of “unbearable incidences” over the course of the past year, including an additional investigation from the prosecution for Hyundai`s secretive payment to the North and for its role in siphoning 15 billion won for the business group.

In addition, the current situation at Hyundai Asan is thought to have added psychological stress. Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. had to sell its core business last year, its car freight business, after suffering from the effects of guaranteeing business projects in the North. Also, despite its historical significance, the Mount Keumkang Tourism project pushed Hyundai Asan into a financial crisis, leaving the group with an accumulated deficit of 280.3 billion won.

Even under such circumstances, Chung proceeded with the company`s project, holding the groundbreaking ceremony at Kaesong Industrial Complex last month. However, due to strained relations between the U.S. and North Korea, the project did not seem prosperous.

Attorney Kang Ji-won, who was the first chairman of the Legal Psychology Association, explained that, “people generally commit suicide when they experience extreme despair, when one fails to find an exit, and when one`s desire comes to a dead-end,” and that, “there is a high possibility that Chung experienced extreme despair because the relationship between the two Koreas has not shown any signs of improvement, so that the business group`s Economic Cooperation Project, in which he exerted much energy, seemed to have come to a dead-end.”

What`s also notable is that Chung Mong-hun was the legitimate heir of the late Hyundai Group`s honorary president, Chung Ju-young, and so is presumed to have felt considerable guilt and pressure when his father`s long-cherished North Korea business was on the verge of faltering. Added to this was the fact that he felt a growing possibility that related officials from his company would be legally punished.

It is widely accepted among psychologists that people about to commit suicide tend to reach out for help by directly and indirectly expressing their hardships until the moment of death. However, it seemed that even close associates, including officials at Hyundai Asan, were deeply shocked, saying that the death was an “unexpected occurrence.”

A Hyundai Asan official who leads the group`s project in North Korea said, “the late-chairman seemed so eager about the North Korea project, visiting the U.S. and Japan in person the previous month in preparation for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kaesong Industrial Complex.” The official failed to make further comments, however.

Jong sik Kong kong@donga.com