Lotte Group Vice Chairman Lee In-won was found dead in an apparent suicide Friday morning, just hours before he was scheduled to be questioned by prosecutors as part of the ongoing investigation into the retail giant.
According to police, Lee's body was found on a walking trail in Yangpyeong-gun, Gyeonggi Province, at about 7 a.m. Police identified him by his business card and ID.
Police said that there was no indication that Lee's death could have been a homicide, adding that the exact cause of death will be determined through an autopsy.
Lee was found to have left his home in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, at around 9 p.m. Thursday, according to police.
Lee's car was parked near the body, with a four-page note addressed to his family and members of Lotte Group.
In his suicide note, Lee called Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin "a great man" and claimed that there was no slush fund created at Lotte Group, police was quoted as saying. There was nothing in the note expressing complaints about the ongoing prosecutors' investigation, according to news reports.
Lee was scheduled to appear before prosecutors at 9:30 a.m. to answer questions regarding allegations of embezzlement and illegal transactions at Lotte Group.
As Lotte vice chairman who heads the group's "policy headquarters" which oversees all of the group's affiliate companies, the 69-year-old Lee was known as Shin Dong-bin's second-in-command.
Prosecutors had hoped that his long career with Lotte and intimate knowledge of the workings of the company could give them key evidence before Lotte's owner family were questioned.
Lee first joined Lotte Group through Hotel Lotte in 1973, then rose through the ranks to eventually head Lotte Shopping, Lotte Group's central retail arm, in 1998.
In 2007, he was named deputy director of Lotte Group's policy headquarters. In 2011, he was named director of the policy headquarters and given the title of vice chairman.
For now, prosecutors have said that they will reconsider the timeline of their investigations. After questioning Lee, prosecutors had reportedly been planning to bring in Chairman Shin, his brother Shin Dong-joo and Lotte founder Shin Kyuk-ho for questioning as early as next week.
Prosecutors have already interrogated two other key figures at the group, Hwang Gak-gyu, head of operations and So Jin-se, head of external relations, as suspects. Both men have denied the allegations of illegal transactions or the creation of a slush fund by the owner family.