BUSINESS
05/26/2014 04:37 EDT | Updated 05/26/2014 04:59 EDT

Billionaires' Death Sentences A Reminder The Rich Aren't Coddled Everywhere

AP

We’re so used to hearing about how the wealthy get special treatment under the law that we can be forgiven for forgetting there are places in the world where — sometimes — being rich can be no advantage.

In fact, you might just be chosen to be made an example of.

Take, for instance, Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, an Iranian entrepreneur with a net worth in the billions. He owned 35 different companies ranging from a football club to mineral water to beef imports, until he was executed by the Iranian government on Saturday.

Khosravi had been found guilty of defrauding an Iranian state bank to the tune of $2.6 billion, the Associated Press reports. His lawyer apparently wasn’t even notified before the execution took place. Iran’s fundamentalist regime likes to carry out death sentences by way of public hangings.

A day earlier, a provincial court in central China sentenced a billionaire mining tycoon to death. Liu Han, who owns a mining conglomerate with stakes in U.S. and Australian mines, appeared to have been no ordinary entrepreneur: Prosecutors said he led a criminal gang that, over two decades, murdered nine people and accumulated some $6.4 billion in assets in finance, mining, energy and real estate, the Associated Press reported.

It's a part of China's MO to fight corruption by way of heavily publicized executions, and even high-ranking government officials aren't immune.

But you don’t have to look to dictatorial regimes like China and Iran to find examples of the law taking down the rich.

The BBC reports South Korean authorities are now offering a $490,000 U.S. reward for the whereabouts of Yoo Byung-eun, believed to be the owner of Cheonghaejin Marine Co., the company that operated the Sewol ferry that sank last month. (We say “believed” to be the owner because the company is controlled through a complex web of ownership that appears to lead to Yoo Byung-eun.)

That disaster left 288 people dead, with another 16 still missing. Five employees of Cheonghaejin, including CEO Kim Han-sik, were indicted last week on charges of professional negligence and violation of maritime safety rules. The ferry captain faces the death penalty.

Yoo -- who is also closely linked to a “cultish” religious sect known as the Evangelical Baptist Church -- is wanted on charges of negligence, as well as embezzlement and tax evasion.

South Korean national police have gone so far as to issue altered photos of what Yoo and his son would look like in disguise. Check it out (story continues below):

yoo byung eun wanted

yoo byung eun wanted

yoo byung eun wanted

South Korean police have issued these images of what Yoo Byung-eun would look like in various disguises. The bottom row depicts his son, Yoo Dae-gyun, who is also wanted by police.

To those of us living in North America, where we mostly hear stories of the wealthy being coddled by the justice system, the notion of a prominent businessman having wanted posters of him issued like a Wild West outlaw is pretty stunning.

We’re more used to hearing stories like that of Ethan Couch, a Texas teenager who received no jail time for a drunken-driving crash that killed four people. The defense had argued that Couch suffered from “affluenza,” a deficiency in his sense of responsibility caused by being spoiled by wealthy parents. Apparently even in tough-on-crime Texas this was accepted as a defence.

And nearly six years after U.S. and international banks’ ill-advised investments and credit swaps threw the global economy into a tailspin, no criminal charges have been laid against any top banker involved. Just recently, however, the Obama administration has started making noises about pursuing charges. Few observers are holding their breath.

In the end, can we really learn anything from these examples? China and Iran are hardly models for liberal democracies to follow, after all. Yet simply being reminded that there are places in the world where “too big to jail” just doesn’t fly is kind of refreshing, isn’t it?

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