Do you think the news about Hyundai's stunning performance in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study made it to the slammer in Seoul?
I hope so.
Those glad tidings might cheer up Hyundai Motor Co. Chairman Chung Mong Koo, who faces charges of bribery and embezzlement. After all, Hyundai accelerated past Toyota to become the top-rated Everyman's brand in the important U.S. market, finishing in third place behind luxury marques Porsche and Lexus.
Chairman Chung may not have had a direct hand in improving the quality rating, but it did happen on his watch, and we know that Korean execs aren't bashful about taking credit where they think it is due.
He isn't the first modern-day auto CEO to face serious charges. Two decades ago, John DeLorean was acquitted twice: Once on drug charges in Los Angeles and once on fraud charges in Detroit.
The fraud charges came after $17.5 million disappeared from DeLorean's sports car project. Prosecutors in the United States and the United Kingdom said DeLorean siphoned off the money and divvied up the loot with co-conspirators, including Colin Chapman, the founder and CEO of Lotus Cars.
Chapman died in 1982 and avoided prosecution. But his CFO and long-time friend, Fred Bushell, was convicted in Belfast and served three years in prison. Bushell died six months ago.
And Chung may not be the last auto industry CEO to stand before a judge.
There could be more prosecutions in the United States, depending on how aggressively the federal prosecutors enforce Sarbanes-Oxley, which makes CEOs personally responsible for all kinds of financial and accounting sins.
Only the Feds know for sure.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]