There are rumors that Chung Mong-koo, the 81-year-old chairman of Hyundai Motor Group, is ill-health. The rumors come as the prosecution has decided to suspend Chung's indictment in connection with Hyundai Motor's cover-up of a faulty in the Theta 2 engine. Chung has also not been seen in public since December 2016.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office suspended the indictment of Chairman Chung on July 24, saying, “It is difficult for him to proceed with the investigation due to health reasons. We need to conduct an investigation, but the Hyundai Motor side submitted the data that it was difficult to undergo an investigation due to health problem, and we decided that we could not conduct an investigation after reviewing the data.”
The prosecution then indicted only three former executives on charges of violating the Automobile Management Act in connection with the cover-up of Theta 2 engine defect.
Rumors of an abnormal health of Chung are spreading as the prosecution suspended Chung's indictment for health reasons.
In May, the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said it could not disclose details, but received a letter of opinion on Chairman Chung's health condition, adding that it judged that normal management was possible given the signatures and the health statement. At that time, Hyundai Motor Group submitted documents bearing Chung's autograph to the FTC after passing the originally set deadline.
However, suspicions are growing further as Chung disappeared from public appearances since December 2016 when he attended the National Assembly hearing related to the political scandals of former President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil.
At that time, he left his post earlier than the heads of other chaebols who also attended the hearing, complaining of headaches. In particular, the Solidarity for Economic Reform said in June that Chung has never attended the boards of directors of Hyundai Motor and Hyundai Mobis in the past three years.
In April, news broke through the media that Chung visited the headquarters of Hyundai Motor Group in Yangjae-dong, Seoul, around March.
At the time, the media carried a statement from a Hyundai official that Chung’s behavior was not the same as before, but it looked quite healthy. However, such reports are fueling rumors of health problems as Chairman Chung did not show up in person and did not participate in any official events.
Regarding the suspension of the indictment, a Hyundai official said in an interview with a media outlet, "The prosecution's investigation will be conducted for a long time, but it will be difficult because the chairman is old."
When asked if Chung was going to work, he said, "I know Chung has been briefed occasionally, and has been to work. I don't know when he was in the office lately.”
Meanwhile, Hyundai recalled 470,000 vehicles in the U.S. in September 2015 after various accidents such as noise, vibration and starting off were reported on vehicles equipped with the Theta 2 engine. It again recalled 1.19 million units in March 2017.
However, it recalled 170,000 units only in April 2017 after the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport launched an investigation after being kept in ignorance in Korea. The move is one year and seven months later than the first recall in the U.S.
Prosecutors judged that Hyundai did not immediately disclose the engine defects and recall them even though they were aware of them in advance.