Chairman Cho looks set to join troubled chaebol owner
|Cho Suck-rae |
Hyosung Group chairman
By Kim Jae-won The Hyosung Group tried to fight back an onslaught by prosecutors Friday afternoon but it appeared to be a half-baked bid that was not likely to affect the course of the investigation.Hours after raids on the residence of Cho Suck-rae, its chairman, and its main office in Mapo, western Seoul, Hyosung issued a statement, denying allegations of accounting fraud and tax dodging. The probe is set to expand even further.Despite Hyosung's claims, the ongoing probe can be seen in a broader perspective on two accounts.First, serious investigations into Hyosung have been delayed during the previous administration led by President Lee Myung-bak.Secondly, the current Park Geun-hye government has so far not acted in any way that shows any affection toward her predecessor, although the two are from the same conservative Saenuri Party. Besides, Park and Lee had run-ins. According to political watchers their relationship remains soured."There are no limits on our effort to make justice prevail," a senior presidential aide said, talking broadly about Park's anti-corruption drive.In other words, the Hyosung case can be a case that the Park camp can vigorously pursue without being "misunderstood" as a political vendetta.How Hyosung and its leader with a history of cancer will cope with it remains to be seen.Park has rarely appeared to be particularly kind to chaebol. Already SK leader Chey Tae-won is in jail and Lee Jay-hyun, chairman of CJ Group, and Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn are furloughed for sickness.Another chaebol head, who served as chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), the big business lobby, has his fate hanging in the balance.Earlier in the day, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office (SCDPO) said that it sent 60 prosecutors and investigators to the group's main office in Mapo, western Seoul, and obtained accounting books and other documents.Former President Lee's third daughter Soo-yeon is a daughter-in-law of Cho's younger brother Yang-rai, chairman of Hankook Tire."Tax evasion is extremely selfish behavior which damages the community of this country. It should be rooted out," said the President in a meeting with her secretaries at Cheong Wa Dae last week.The government has been in dire need of collecting more tax revenues to support Park's welfare policies which require a trillion won of additional income.The probe comes after the National Tax Service (NTS) filed a complaint against Cho Suck-rai for allegedly leading the tax evasion scheme through various illegal methods. Last week, the prosecution office obtained a local tax office's probe data."We completed the tax audit on Hyosung and handed over the related documents to the prosecution," said a high-ranking NTS official asking not to be named.Prosecutors also swooped down on the houses of Chairman Cho and several executives, they added, without giving further details.The family-owned conglomerate had allegedly evaded corporate taxes worth 1 trillion won ($900 million) for the past 10 years since 1997 through an accounting fraud, according to the tax office that had conducted a special audit into the group for months beginning in May.Cho is further accused of holding shares worth more than 100 billion won under borrowed names since the 1990s to evade transfer and income taxes, it said.The authorities have already banned Cho and two others — the chairman's key aide surnamed Koh and the group's Vice Chairman Lee Sang-woon — from leaving the country pending the results of investigations.
11일 오전 7시30분 서울 마포구 공덕동 효성그룹 본사. 임직원들의 출근 시간이 되기도 전에 검사와 수사관 50∼60여명이 사무실에 들이닥쳤다.
서울중앙지검 특수2부는 그룹 경영과정에서 수천억원대 탈세 의혹을 받는 효성그룹 본사, 효성캐피탈 본사, 조석래 회장과 아들 현준·현문·현상씨 자택 등 7∼8곳을 이날 오후까지 압수수색했다.
검찰은 앞서 서울지방국세청이 세무조사를 벌일 때 가져가지 않은 컴퓨터 하드디스크와 회계 장부, 내부 보고서 등을 확보한 것으로 전해졌다.
지난 1일 본격적으로 수사에 착수한 검찰은 7일 압수수색 영장까지 발부받아 국세청으로부터 효성의 세무조사 자료를 넘겨받았다.
조 회장과 아들 삼형제 자택에도 압수수색이 이뤄지면서 검찰의 수사가 어디까지 확대될지에 관심이 쏠리고 있다.
전격적인 압수수색 등 검찰의 고강도 수사에 효성 측은 당혹해했다.
압수수색이 진행되는 동안 홍보 담당 임직원들까지 휴대전화를 꺼놓거나 전화를 끊는 등 언론과의 접촉을 피하는 모습을 보였다.
효성의 한 관계자는 '압수수색이 이뤄지는 동안 임직원의 휴대전화를 한 곳에 모아놓고 통화를 하지 못하게 해 전화를 받을 수 없었다'고 설명했다.
그러면서 이 관계자는 '정해진 규정에 따라 잘 준비해서 검찰 수사에 성실히 임하겠다'고 밝혔다.
효성은 이날 오후 보도자료를 내어 부실 회계처리와 관련, '1998년 외환위기 때 생긴 부실을 국민의 혈세로 연결되는 공적자금을 받지 않고 10년간 이익을 내서 갚아온 것'이라며 '비자금이나 횡령 등 사적으로 사용한 것은 없다'고 해명했다.
또 조 회장 일가가 1천억원대 차명주식을 관리하며 각종 양도세와 소득세를 탈루한 혐의에 대해서는 '다른 그룹처럼 1970년대부터 경영권 보호를 위한 우호지분 확보 차원에서 친인척 등 지인들에게 명의신탁을 해놓은 것'이라고 반박했다.