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Hyundai Official Leaps to His Death - 2003-08-04

Officials in Seoul say a top executive of a South Korean conglomerate in charge of joint ventures with communist North Korea committed suicide on Monday. The chief of Hyundai-Asan, Mr. Chung Mong-hun, was facing corruption and embezzlement charges.

Police in Seoul say the 54-year-old executive jumped from the 12th story of Hyundai's headquarters in the center of the city. They say a janitor found his body in shrubbery near a parking lot four to five hours after his death leap.

Mr. Chung was a son of the founder of the Hyundai conglomerate.

Investigators say Mr. Chung, in several suicide notes, asked for forgiveness for what he called his foolish act. He urged that economic ventures with North Korea continue. He also reportedly requested his ashes be scattered over a scenic North Korean resort where Hyundai runs a money-losing tourism project.

Hyundai-Asan has been accused of being a vehicle for transferring a $100 million to North Korea from the government of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. Mr. Chun was on trial on charges of manipulating company accounting records to hide the secret transfers and embezzling more than $12 million of company money to pay bribes.

The money was allegedly used to persuade North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to attend a historic inter-Korean summit three years ago.

South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, in a domestic radio interview, says he does not think Mr. Chung's death will affect inter-Korean projects.

Besides the troubled Diamond Mountain resort, Hyundai-Asan is building in North Korea an industrial park, cross-border roads and railways. The delay of the projects, due to political tensions, has put severe financial strains on the company.

The family-controlled Hyundai company, which used to be South Korea's largest conglomerate, was divided into three sub-groups after the Asian financial crisis five years ago. Mr. Chung had feuded with his elder brother, Chung Mong-koo, who heads another third of the empire, the automaker Hyundai Motor.

The news of Mr. Chung's suicide prompted a fall in stock prices of some Hyundai companies in trading Monday in Seoul.