The vice-chairman of South Korea’s troubled Lotte Group was found dead on Friday, police said, in an apparent suicide amid a widening corruption probe into the country’s fifth largest business conglomerate.
The body of Lee In-Won was found hanging from a tree near a hiking trail in the eastern town of Yangpyeong.
A four-page letter -- apparently a suicide note -- was found in his car, expressing loyalty to the group’s chairman Shin Dong-Bin and denying allegations that the firm had avoided huge sums of tax and created slush funds.
Lee was a key suspect in an alleged tax evasion scam worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
An official probe into the retail and hotel giant widened in June when prosecutors raided the offices of 15 subsidiaries, before issuing summons to a number of executives.
In South Korea, it is not unusual for a high-profile suspect to commit suicide when he is the subject of an investigation.
In 2003, Chung Mong-Hun, then chairman of the country’s No. 2 conglomerate Hyundai Group, jumped to his death from his office building after being interrogated over the group’s secret transfer of $500 million to North Korea to secure business deals.
A year later, an executive of Daewoo business group Nam Sang-Guk jumped off a bridge into the Han River in Seoul after being questioned over corruption allegations.
Last year, businessman Sung Wan-Jong hanged himself, leaving a note suggesting he had offered bribes to powerful elite players including former Prime Minister Lee Wan-Koo.