By Hyunjoo Jin and Joyce Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) - Lotte Group founder Shin Kyuk-ho, who started manufacturing chewing gum in 1948 in Japan and built the business into South Korea's No.5 conglomerate with interests ranging from retail to chemicals, died on Sunday, the company said. He was 98.
He was the last of the South Korean entrepreneurs who founded the country's major chaebols, or family-run conglomerates, that now dominate Asia's fourth-largest economy.
Lotte was founded in 1948 as a chewing gum maker in Japan by Shin, who moved to the neighboring country when the Korean peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule. He married a Japanese woman and they had two sons, who later feuded over control of the business empire in 2015.
Now, Shin Dong-bin, the younger son, is at the helm of the retail conglomerate.
Due to its deep links to Japan, Lotte has sometimes faced a public backlash in South Korea, leading to a boycott of its products when ties between the two countries worsened.
In 2017, Lotte also became the biggest corporate casualty of South Korea's diplomatic row with China over Seoul's decision to deploy a U.S. anti-missile system to counter North Korean threat. Lotte, which offered land for the system, saw most of its supermarkets suspended by Chinese authorities, and eventually pulled out of the operations.
Shin, by then wheelchair-bound, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2018 for embezzlement and breach of duty. But he was excused from serving time because of his poor health.
Lotte, which owns the country's tallest 123-story skyscraper, is a household name in South Korea, with the conglomerate's interests ranging from snacks and beverages to supermarkets, department stores, hotels, theme parks and cinemas. One of its flagship units is Lotte Chemical <011170.KS>, which has a factory in the United States.
(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Joyce Lee; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)