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Former Corporate Titan Returns to South Korea for Criminal Trial

Investigator arrest Kim Woo-choong, center, upon his arrival at Incheon International Airport
A corporate tycoon turned illegal fugitive returned to South Korea Tuesday to face charges of fraud and graft. Kim Woo-chung was the chairman of Daewoo, a conglomerate that once symbolized South Korean can-do capitalism. But Daewoo went bankrupt several years ago, and its former chairman faces charges stemming from the collapse of his one-time empire.

Police escorted Kim Woo-chung through an angry mob as he arrived Tuesday in Seoul after an early morning flight from Vietnam.

Many South Koreans want the 68-year-old tycoon punished for financial crimes he is accused of committing as the chairman of Daewoo, the corporate empire he started in 1967.

Mr. Kim fled South Korea six years ago following the Asian financial crisis that helped bring on Daewoo's collapse, inflicting heavy losses on investors and the South Korean public sector.

Prosecutors say Mr. Kim exaggerated Daewoo's finances by $40 billion, then used those fraudulent records to secure billions of dollars in illegal bank loans.

They also accuse him of transferring $25 billion to overseas accounts - much of which, prosecutors say, was used to buy influence with South Korean politicians.

Mr. Kim has not made any specific admissions of guilt, but did tell reporters at the airport he is sorry.

Mr. Kim said he is ready to take whatever responsibility is necessary for his actions. If found guilty, he faces fines and imprisonment for the company's financial improprieties - punishments other Daewoo executives have already received.

In addition to criminal charges, Mr. Kim faces dozens of civil suits. Daewoo shareholders say they have lost a combined total of about $300 million because of his actions.

Many South Koreans have mixed emotions about Mr. Kim's return to South Korea. His success in turning a small textile company into a giant conglomerate is widely viewed as a metaphor for the country's strong rebound from poverty after its war in the 1950s. Prosecutors say they will probably indict him next month.