Ex-Reckitt Benckiser Korea head gets 6 yrs over deadly disinfectant

SEOUL-- A former head of a British consumer product maker's Seoul unit was sentenced to six years in jail Wednesday in an appellate trial after being convicted of overlooking sales of a harmful disinfectant that led to some 70 deaths here.

The Seoul High Court upheld the lower court's ruling on Shin Hyun-woo, ex-chief of Oxy Reckitt Benckiser Korea, and found him guilty of accidental homicide due to professional negligence.

The court also sustained a not-guilty verdict for John Lee, current president of Google Korea, who headed Oxy after Shin, citing a lack of evidence. It meted out four- to six-year sentences on three former Oxy officials who were in the research unit.

The appeals court lowered the sentences on the defendants, saying that it allowed for the fact that they have "sincerely made efforts in compensating the victims and that they are willing to reach a settlement with the victims' families." Shin was given a seven-year jail term in January.

"It's also been taken into account that the defendants regret their wrongdoings and that there is a new legislation that has paved the way to help the victims and their families," the court said.

Shin, 68, was indicted in May last year on charges of neglecting the harmfulness of an Oxy's anti-bacterial liquid additive for household humidifier and selling them without due safety checks. He led the company from 1991 to 2005.

The Oxy disinfectants were sold in South Korea from 1996. Its risks first came to light in 2011 after some pregnant women died of unidentified lung ailments. The local authorities launched a probe and concluded that it was caused by polyhexamethylene guanidine (PHMG), an anti-bacterial agent used in the humidifier cleanser that can be fatal when it's inhaled in the form of droplets.

Some 181 people have been affected by the toxicity of the product, 73 of whom died of a pulmonary disease, including children. Many of the survivors have to breathe through a support device for the rest of their lives.

The case has stirred a huge public uproar in Korea, with civic groups representing the victims and their families filing a slew of complaints with the prosecution seeking a probe into a dozen other companies that sold similar products.

The media coverage on grieving parents who lost their child, and a wheelchair-bound boy breathing with a support device added fuel to the public anger, leading to a nationwide boycott on all Oxy products. The company discontinued sales of the disinfectant in 2011.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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