SKorea dairy company CEO resigns over virus research scandal

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2009 AP

FILE - In this April 1, 2009, file photo, North Korea's Jong Tae Se, left, fights for the ball against South Korea's Lee Young-pyo during their 2010 FIFA World Cup Asia group 2 qualifying soccer match at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean officials say North Korea has told soccer's Asian governing body it will not participate in World Cup qualifiers next month because of coronavirus concerns. Kim Min-soo, an official from the Seoul-based Korean Football Association, on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, said the Asian Football Confederation has requested North Korea to reconsider its decision. He said the North notified the AFC last week of its intent to drop out of the matches.(AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man, File)

SEOUL – The chairman of one of South Korea’s biggest dairy companies has resigned over a scandal in which his company was accused of deliberately spreading misinformation that its yogurt helps prevent coronavirus infections.

While stepping down as the company’s head, Hong Won-sik and other members of his family will retain their commanding share in Namyang Dairy Products.

Namyang financed research it aggressively promoted through the media and a symposium it funded last month that claimed its Bulgaris yogurt drinks were effective in lowering the risk of coronavirus infections.

Namyang’s stock price rose temporarily before the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety sued the company for false advertising, saying the research was dubious and never involved any animal testing or clinical trials.

Police searched Namyang’s Seoul headquarters last week. Namyang’s CEO, Lee Kwang-bum, also offered to resign following a public uproar.

“I express my sincere apology for causing disappointment and anger to our country’s people with the Bulgaris-related controversy at a time when the nation is undergoing a hard time because of COVID-19,” Hong said, tearing up. He said he will take “all responsibility” by stepping down as chairman and promised not to pass on management rights to his children, which is a much-criticized practice at South Korea’s family-owned businesses.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Sri Lanka has received its first batch of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine following a delay in getting COVID-19 vaccines from India. The 15,000 doses were flown in Tuesday. Sri Lanka has ordered 13 million Sputnik doses, and Channa Jayasuma, the state minister for drug regulation, said he was hopeful Sri Lanka would receive the total order in the future. Sri Lanka is short 600,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It has administered the first shot to 925,242 people, but the health ministry has only about 350,000 doses, leaving people short the required second dose after a delay in getting the vaccines ordered from India. Meanwhile, coronavirus infections have spread rapidly. Sri Lanka has banned public gatherings and parties, schools are closed, and supermarkets and shopping complexes are limited to 25% of their customer capacity. It has counted 111,753 cases with 696 fatalities.