A jury convicted a former General Motors manager earlier this month over a bribery scheme tied to a $100 million contract for a supplier.
Prosecutors found that Hyoung Nam So secured a bribe in the form of nearly $3.5 million cash from South Korean auto parts company Wookyung MIT in exchange for awarding a contract with General Motors. The jury found him guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.
According to So’s indictment, he supervised parts supplies used to build GM interiors in North America. In 2015, General Motors began soliciting bids for interior painting, window film and molding. So and his team managed the bidding process, which included passing on recommendations of suppliers to executives.
Those executives “relied on, and trusted, [So’s] recommendation when determining which supply company would be awarded the Contract,” prosecutors said in the indictment.
In October of that year, So told the president of Wookyung MIT at a meeting in South Korea that he could ensure the company won a large upcoming GM contract in exchange for a $5 million bribe, per the indictment.
So had one of his employees email Wookyung MIT from a personal email address — a violation of GM policies — with information needed to submit a winning bid.
When a Chinese auto parts manufacturer submitted the lowest bid for the contract, So withheld the information from executives and allowed Wookyung MIT to alter its bid after the deadline — again a violation of GM’s procurement policies, according to prosecutors.
So recommended the South Korean company to GM management after receiving an initial $1 million — in cash driven from L.A. to Michigan. When the automaker awarded the contract to Wookyung MIT, So kept the information from the supplier until he received another nearly $2.5 million at a restaurant in Detroit.
Roughly two years later, investigators with the Department of Homeland Security seized about $3.2 million from a private vault, believed to be proceeds from the bribery scheme, and returned the money to South Korean authorities. So was charged in 2022 by federal prosecutors.
A sentencing hearing for So is set for May, where he faces up to five years in prison. Along with So’s conviction, the owner of Wookyung MIT was prosecuted in South Korea for offenses related to the bribery scheme.
The U.N. has estimated previously that businesses around the world pay some $1 trillion in bribes every year. In a 2016 report on supply chain corruption, the U.N. Global Compact said that “corruption makes business far more costly by imposing extraordinary obstacles to growth and undermining shareholder value.” When corruption comes to light, it can even hurt the value of bystander supply chain partners, according to an academic study from this year.
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