(2nd LD) Lotte family denies all criminal allegations in first hearing
(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with denial of charges; CHANGES photo)
SEOUL, March 20 (Yonhap) -- Retail giant Lotte Group's Chairman Shin Dong-bin and his four other family members denied all criminal allegations raised against them at their first hearing on Monday.
Chairman Shin; his older brother and former vice chairman of Tokyo-based Lotte Holdings Shin Dong-bin; and their father and group founder Shin Kyuk-ho appeared at the Seoul Central District Court to attend the trial on multiple charges including embezzlement and breach of trust.
"I am sorry for causing concerns," Chairman Shin told reporters as he arrived at the court, declining to elaborate further. "I will faithfully go through the court proceedings."
After a four-month investigation into the country's fifth-largest conglomerate, prosecutors indicted the three family members in October on a string of allegations involving some tens of billions of won in corporate assets.
They all flatly denied the charges leveled against them.
"Specific matters regarding snack bars at theaters, giving salaries and selling stocks were carried out by the company's policy coordination department," Shin Kyuk-ho's legal representative said.
Shin, who appeared in court in a wheelchair, left the courtroom about 30 minutes after the trial began due to health reasons.
Chairman Shin, meanwhile, shifted the responsibility to his father, saying the group founder made key decisions on issues that came into question.
Dong-joo also denied allegations of illegally pocketing corporate assets.
The group founder's daughter Shin Young-ja and his third wife, Seo Mi-kyung, also appeared at the court and rejected charges of tax evasion.
Seo Mi-kyung, the de facto wife of Lotte Group founder Shin Kyuk-ho, appears for a court trial in Seoul on March 20, 2017. Seo is one of the defendants in the investigation of South Korea's fifth-largest conglomerate who is suspected of embezzlement and breach of trust. Seo, not officially wed to Shin but treated as his third wife, has been living reclusively, hardly making any public appearances. (Yonhap)
It was the first public appearance by Seo, as the former actress and model has been avoiding media for decades. She was put on trial without going through a face-to-face interrogation by prosecutors, as she rejected multiple summons.
The court earlier warned that it will issue an arrest warrant if she does not attend the hearing, which is mandatory for all defendants.
Shin Young-ja was sentenced to three years in prison by the same court in January for embezzlement and breach of trust in the first ruling against members of the family running the business group.
The Shin family's disgraceful court appearance came as Lotte Group, particularly its business in China, has been severely battered by Beijing's economic retaliations against South Korea for allowing the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system. Lotte offered a golf course in southeast South Korea to be used as the missile site.
Separately, Lotte Group has been embroiled in allegations of bribery involving former President Park Geun-hye, as the conglomerate is accused of providing a huge sum of money to two foundations allegedly controlled by her arrested friend Choi Soon-sil.
Shin Kyuk-ho, founder of South Korea's fifth-largest business group Lotte, arrives at a court in Seoul in a wheelchair on March 20, 2017. A trial began on the day for Shin and his family members who are accused of embezzlement and breach of trust. The conglomerate is also implicated in a scandal, suspected of giving bribes to former President Park Geun-hye's close friend for business favors. (Yonhap)