SUWON, South Korea, April 26 (Korea Bizwire) – A former Hyundai Motor employee who disclosed defects in Hyundai’s Theta II engine may face criminal charges, with the South Korean car maker seemingly intent on bringing the whistleblower to court.
The 54-year-old former chief of Hyundai’s quality and strategy department, only disclosed as Kim, accused the South Korean company last year of attempting to keep secret 32 quality issues found in Hyundai vehicles, despite being aware of their potential danger.
Kim forwarded the revealing documents to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well as to local newspapers, ultimately resulting in the recall of 1.47 million vehicles equipped with the engine.
Kim was fired shortly after the disclosure for violating Hyundai’s by-laws, including leaking confidential documents and defamation.
Although the Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission ruled in favor of the whistleblower in March, stating that his dismissal was unfair and that Kim be reinstated, Hyundai refused to accept the decision and filed a lawsuit with the Seoul Administrative Court demanding that the commission’s ruling be nullified.
Hyundai is also seeking criminal charges, accusing Kim of not only releasing company secrets, but claiming that his actions were motivated by “personal gains.”
The Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency, which is investigating the case following Hyundai’s accusations, is expected to charge Kim with violating the Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Act, although the agency is unlikely to include documents that were used to benefit public interest as part of its final judgement.
In February, the police discovered multiple documents on Kim’s personal computer, some of which were not directly related to Hyundai’s vehicle defects. Kim admitted to releasing the unrelated documents but testified that they were used as “reference data.”
“The police will only determine whether he violated the law, and we will relay our conclusion to the prosecutors. It will be up to the courts to make the final decision, taking into account that the suspect released the information for public interest,” an official from the agency said.
Meanwhile, Hyundai is facing criticism from local consumers over its attempt to retaliate against the whistleblower.
Lee Sang-hee, the assistant director of the Support Center for Public Interest Disclosure operated by the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, denounced Hyundai, saying that the company is “oppressing the whistleblower with a lawsuit, and ignoring the principles of the whistleblower protection law.”
“The bigger problem is unethical corporate culture that tries to muzzle whistleblowers,” he said.
In response to the criticism, a Hyundai official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the company is merely raising the issue of an illicit activity, and not suppressing its former employee.
By Joseph Shin (email@example.com)