Head of Hyundai Group's Death Shocks S. Korea

The death of South Korean largest business group Hyundai Group's President Chung Mong-hun shocked South Korea's political and business circles on Monday.

The 55-year old business man committed suicide early Monday by jumping from his 12th floor office in Hyundai Asan Co.'s headquarters building in central Seoul early Monday morning.

Two letters of Chung were found by police in his office, one for his wife, another for Hyundai Asan's President Kim Yoon-kyu. In the letters, he expressed his will to bury his cremains in Geumgang Mountain, the only resort in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) that opens to South Korean ordinary tourists.

"Sorry for being a stupid man and for doing a stupid act," Chung wrote to Kim Yoon-kyu and asked Kim to continue Hyundai's business projects in the DPRK.

Although the fifth son of late Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung did not elaborate on the reason of his suicide in the letters, local media widely believed his alleged involvement in a secret money transfer to Pyongyang in year 2000 was the main cause.

Earlier this year, South Korean former President Kim Dae-jung admitted that some of his government officials had helped Hyundai Group transmit a large sum of money to Pyongyang before the summit meeting between Kim Dae-jung and DPRK top leader Kim Jong IL in June 2000.

And Chung, who also served as chairman of Hyundai Asan, then admitted that his group had given the DPRK a total of 500 million dollars just before one week of the summit.

Chung said the money was to secure the exclusive business rights for several large projects in the DPRK. But the remittance was criticized here as "bribe" to arrange the summit, which led Kim Dae-jung to won the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize.

His suicide came days before he was to be summoned by prosecutors for further questioning about his role in the scandal.

At the request of the National Assembly of South Korea, an independent counsel was established to investigate the pay-off scandal.

Kim Dae-jung's Chief of Staff Park Jie-won, who once served as culture minister in year 2000, was found to take 12.6 million dollars from Hyundai in April 2000.

But after the first 70-day stage of the investigation ended, South Korean current President Roh Moo-hyun rejected the request raised by the independent counsel of prolonging probe into the scandal for fresh facts.

Hyundai Group's affiliate Hyundai Asan, South Korea's important auto maker, has been devoted itself in Seoul-Pyongyang joint projects, such as the DPRK's Mount Geumgang Tour, construction of the DPRK's Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Hyundai Asan started operation of Geumgang Tour project in 1998. More than 500,000 South Korean and foreign tourists have visited the resort up to now. But the project has suffered money lose these years.

Moreover, in order to commemorate the third anniversary of the Joint South-North Declaration signed at the inter-Korean summit, Hyundai Asan and the DPRK's co-operator of the Kaesong industrial park symbolically held ground-breaking ceremony this June.

Chung's death is feared to levy negative impact on inter-Korean exchanges. "Inter-Korean economic cooperation would suffer a setback following the death of Chairman Chung," a local observer said.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who now is on his vocation, not only delivered his condolences over Chung's death but also highly evaluated Chung's contribution to inter-Korean reconciliation, vowing to enhance inter-Korean exchanges continually, according to the Blue House's statement.

Former President Kim Dae-jung was seriously shocked upon hearing Chung's suicide and expressed deep sorrow, saying "Chung will be written into history for his contributions to inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation."

South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said to local media that "(His death) will not have a special effect on inter-Korean projects as various inter-Korean projects pursued by the Hyundai, including the Mount Geumgang tourism project and the construction of Kaesong industrial park, are being pushed ahead on an institutional basis, not a personal one."

Ruling party Millennium Democratic Party and opposition the Grand National Party both expressed "regret" over his death.

In the same time, Chung's death also shook the stocks market. Prices of Hyundai-related stocks dropped by 5 to 8 percent following the news of Chung's death. Key Hyundai Group's affiliates include Hyundai Merchant Marine Co., Hyundai Corp., Hyundai Securities Co., Hyundai Elevator Co. and Hyundai Logistics Co.

Hyundai Motor Co., the nation's largest car maker, and Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's largest shipbuilder, were separated from the group several years ago and managed by Chung Ju-yung's other sons.

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