Whistleblower for Hyundai Safety Violation Case Gets US$24 million Prize

Whistleblower for Hyundai Safety Violation Case Gets US$24 million Prize

Kim Gwang-ho had come to attention when he reported irregularities at the automotive company Hyundai in 2016. As a whistleblower, he was this week awarded by the US auto safety regulator an award of US$24 million.

Ummatimes - But the gifts don't come free. He lost many things, from work to friendship. Understandably, he has worked at the South Korean giant for 26 years.

Following the report on the safety in the Hyudai cars, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the compensation money.

Kim intends to use the money to set up a foundation promoting a responsible corporate culture.

"The compensation I expect from the whistleblower program in the United States exceeds the sacrifices I had to make in South Korea," Kim, 59, who works on the company's quality strategy team, told Reuters on Friday, November 12, 2021.

Kim's actions resulted in a deal last year by Hyundai and its affiliate Kia, which ranks among the world's top 10 automakers by sales, to pay a record $210 million in civil penalties for recalls involving nearly 1.7 million vehicles.

Kim, who plans to set up a YouTube channel to teach how to expose their employers' bad behavior, learned about US law through training that Hyundai provided, and which inspired him to come forward, he said.

"(The number) is not extraordinary or anything like that, I would say it's true," Kim said in the living room of his home in the city of Yongin, south of the capital Seoul.

"It's just the right amount when you see what I had to sacrifice, how much I had to work for this," said Kim, who said his actions cost him his job and cut ties with old colleagues.

"After my report, I believe that automakers now know that anyone can report and they can't hide anything."

Hyundai Motor Group did not provide comment.

The award, presented Tuesday, November 9, 2021, is the first by a US regulator and the largest in a whistleblower case in the auto sector worldwide, said law firm Constantine Cannon, who represents Kim.

It came as US regulators and transportation authorities prepared regulations for a program for whistleblowers in the auto sector that Congress created in 2015.

The whistleblower program aims to help oversee the automotive industry by rewarding providers of information about safety violations. The whistleblower will get a share ranging from 10% to 30% of the fine or penalty collected.

The amount of Kim's award recommended by regulators is 30% of the $81 million upfront payment agreed upon by Hyundai and Kia.

"I'm relieved to hear that it's finally over," he said, adding that he and his law firm were examining whether he could accept more.

In the summer of 2016, Kim told US regulators that Hyundai had not taken sufficient action to resolve engine faults that increased the risk of accidents, citing an internal report from the strategy team to management.

Vehicle recalls between 2015 and 2017 have ranked among the largest corporate cases in the United States.

An investigation by regulators that began in 2017 led to the ruling that the company had failed to tow vehicles in a timely manner, carrying a penalty last year worth $210 million.

In 2018, US prosecutors investigated whether the recall of Hyundai vehicles was carried out properly.

However, today, Kim feels his efforts are not entirely successful.

"Those who tried to cover up the recall at the time were still working as executives at affiliates of the Hyundai Motor Group, which I think is a painful reality even after I managed to report to rectify the situation," he said.