Car chief murdered in Johannesburg

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE HEAD of operations for Daewoo, the South Korean car giant, was shot dead in a Johannesburg suburb yesterday in the latest blow to South Africa's attempts to attract foreign investment and tourism.

Yong Koo Kwon, 50, president of Daewoo Motor South Africa, was killed in a pre-dawn attack that police described as a possible car-jacking attempt. They said, however, that it could have been a contract murder.

"We are worried about the crime situation in South Africa," said a spokesman at the South Korean embassy in Pretoria. "This murder can affect the business community."

Car-jackings in South Africa, already at epidemic levels, increased by almost 9 per cent last year. But Perumal Naidoo, head of the police anti- car-jacking unit, said the killing did not seem to be an ordinary attempted theft and could have been an assassination. Others speculated that the killer or killers fled when the car rolled down the driveway and the electric gates closed.

South Africa's Safety and Security Minister, Sydney Mufamadi, said everything would be done to hunt down the killers. "I was shocked when I was informed of the fatal shooting. On behalf of the South African government, I would like to express our sincere condolences and sympathies to Mr Kwon's family, colleagues and friends."

Mr Kwon had been at a farewell dinner for the Korean ambassador on Tuesday night, leaving at around 10pm (2000 GMT). He was found at 3am. Friends said he had been particularly happy at the dinner because he had just received news that one of his sons had gained admission to a South Korean university.

Richard Newby, managing director of Daewoo Electronics South Africa, a unit of Daewoo Corp South Africa, said Mr Kwon's killer or killers did not appear to have stolen anything: "His cellphone and wallet were still there."

A representative at the South Korean trade centre in Johannesburg said the circumstances of the killing were doubly mysterious because Mr Kwon had driven his car through the gates into the grounds of the house before he was shot.

"We are sure it was not just a simple car hijacking. Surely it's a kind of assassination, but I don't know why he was killed," said a spokesman.

Johannesburg is South Africa's commercial nerve centre, but it also has a reputation as the world's murder capital. Many wealthy people employ armed guards and live in villas bristling with alarms and ringed with electrified fencing. Motorists run the daily risk of being shot for their cars by young men wielding guns.

Daewoo's general manager, Pieter Coetzee, said Mr Kwon was well-liked and had no known enemies. The killing "did not send out a message of confidence", he said. C Y Kim, a counsellor at the South Korean embassy, said the attack could damage South Korean investment in the country. "Without security we cannot do anything," he said.

Daewoo has been operating in South Africa for 30 months, and accounts through its imports for 3.5 per cent of the car market. It reported a loss in the first six months of last year of $7m (pounds 4m) on sales of $15m.

A South Korean trade official said his country's investment in South Africa was currently worth about $80m a year, mainly in the electronics, motor and heavy industry sectors. About 700 South Koreans are currently resident in South Africa.

Mr Kwon's murder is the second such incident involving a senior foreign businessman stationed in the country. In August 1996, Erich Ellmer, the German finance manager of the AEG Group, was murdered in an attempted car-jacking.