Sat, October 21, 2017 | 10:31
Posted : 2017-01-06 16:27
Updated : 2017-01-09 11:18

Former Oxy head gets 7 years in prison

Family members of victims of the deadly humidifier disinfectants hold a press conference following a court ruling that sentenced former head of Oxy Reckitt Benckiser, the local unit of U.K.-based Reckitt Benckiser, to seven years in prison, in front of the Seoul Central District Court in southern Seoul, Friday. / Yonhap

By Lee Kyung-min

A district court in Seoul sentenced Shin Hyun-woo, 68, a former head of Oxy Reckitt Benckiser (ORB), the local unit of U.K.-based Reckitt Benckiser, to seven years in prison, Friday, for failing to ensure the safety of the firm's humidifier disinfectant. The chemical caused respiratory problems for 181 people, including 73 deaths.

Google Korea CEO John Lee, the former head of ORB, was acquitted of all charges due to a lack of evidence. The court ordered ORB to pay 150 million won ($126,000) in fines.

The prosecution earlier sought 20 years and 10 years in prison for Shin and Lee, respectively, on charges of manslaughter and professional negligence resulting in death. The trial included numerous figures and companies involved in manufacturing and selling the deadly disinfectant.

The Seoul Central District Court said the accused, including Shin, deserve harsh punishment for incurring irrevocable damage to the victims.

"Many of the victims were pregnant women and children. It is unimaginable how much pain their family members had to go through feeling helpless as they watched their loved ones die without knowing why," Judge Choi Chang-young said.

"Had they paid more attention to the safety of the products before or after their market release, they could have either prevented the tragedy, or at least limited the number of victims," the court added.

Parents of the children victims were subject to enormous undue guilt feeling that they killed their children by buying and using the product, when such blame should be placed on the manufactures, the court added.

"Victims bought the products based on the false advertizing label that claimed the ingredients were ‘harmless to humans' and ‘safe to use for children,' which were all untrue," the judge said.

A seven-year prison term and a 150 million won fine are the maximum punishments allowable to the accused in this case.

Under the current law, manslaughter and professional negligence resulting in death are both punishable by a prison term of up to five years. False advertizing of commercial products is punishable by a prison term of up to two years.

Victims and their families weren't satisfied with the court's decisions. Gathering outside the court after the verdicts were announced, they claimed the two former ORB heads deserve graver punishments.

Meanwhile, two former researchers at an ORB research institute, known only as Kim and Cho, were both sentenced to seven years.

The CEO of Butterfly Effect, the manufacturer of Cefu, another disinfectant, was sentenced to seven years, and the company was fined 150 million won. The firm was responsible for 27 victims including 14 deaths.

Former chiefs of Lotte Mart and Home plus, two major retail chains here which produced similar toxic disinfectants, were sentenced to four and five years in prison, respectively. Home plus was fined 150 million won. Lotte Mart avoided the fine.

The humidifier disinfectant scandal which surfaced in 2011 was the worst biocide crisis in Korea. According to government statistics, 143 victims were reported to have died so far. But civic groups claim the death toll exceeds 1,000.

After almost five years of low recognition, the case drew attention earlier last year after the prosecution decided to investigate the case. ORB is responsible for the highest number of deaths.

'가습기사태' 구형 20년에 선고 7년…'사기냐 아니냐' 차이

가습기 살균제 제조업체 옥시레킷벤키저의 신현우 전 대표가 검찰 구형량(20년)보다 낮은 징역 7년형을 받은 것은 그가 살균제의 위험성을 미리 알지 못했다고 본 법원 판단이 주된 이유가 됐다.

이 같은 판단 때문에 신 전 대표에게 적용된 여러 혐의 중 가장 법정형이 높은 사기죄에서 무죄가 나오면서 전체적인 형량이 결정됐다.

6일 법조계에 따르면 검찰이 신 전 대표에게 징역 20년을 구형하는 데는 그에게 적용된 특정경제범죄 가중처벌법상 사기 혐의가 중요한 역할을 했다. 

신 전 대표에게 검찰이 적용한 3건의 혐의 중 업무상 과실치사상은 금고 5년, 표시광고법 위반은 징역 2년이 법이 정한 최대한의 형량이지만, 특경법 사기죄는 최대 무기징역도 가능하기 때문이다.

만약 검찰이 신 전 대표에게 사기죄를 적용해 기소하지 않았더라면 징역 20년은 애초 법적으로 선고할 수 없는 형량이 된다. 나머지 두 혐의가 유죄로 인정되는 경우 형사소송법에 따라 산정한 최대 법정형은 신 전 대표가 받은 것과 같은 징역 7년이다.

심리를 맡은 서울중앙지법 형사합의28부(최창영 부장판사)는 다른 2건의 혐의는 유죄로 인정했지만, 사기죄는 유죄로 인정하지 않았다.

검찰은 신 전 대표 등이 '인체 무해', '아이에게도 안전' 등 허위 광고 문구를 내세워 제품을 판매해 소비자들을 속여 51억원에 달하는 이익을 얻었다는 판단에 따라 사기 혐의를 적용했다.

이에 대한 법원의 인식은 다소 달랐다.

재판부는 '신 전 대표 등은 가습기 살균제에 함유된 PHMG 농도가 낮고 유독물로 지정돼 있지 않아 안전성이 문제없다고 인식했다'고 판단했다. 신 전 대표 등이 안전성을 확인할 중요한 의무를 소홀히 한 건 맞지만, 막연히 살균제가 안전할 것이라고 믿었다고 본 것이다.

기소된 업체 관계자 중 일부가 직접 가습기 살균제를 사용한 점이 이런 판단의 근거가 됐다. 신 전 대표와 함께 기소된 군소 제조업체 대표 A씨는 직접 살균제를 사용했다가 자녀를 잃은 사실이 뒤늦게 검찰 수사 과정에서 알려진 바 있다.

재판부는 또 '사기죄가 성립하려면 가습기 살균제가 안전성이 결여돼 인체에 해로울 수 있음을 신 전대표 등이 알고 있으면서도 피해자들을 속여 금전을 편취할 뜻이 있었다고 인정돼야 한다'고 지적했다. 이런 부분까지 명확히 증명되지는 않았다는 판단에 따라 법원은 사기죄 부분은 받아들이지 않았고, 이 판단이 형량 결정에 반영됐다. (연합뉴스)