South Korean engineer Kim Gwang-ho was almost certain he would receive ample compensation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration informational program for a tip on security holes a Hyundai Motor Co., his 26-year-old employer. Now, at the end of a five-year ordeal, the Security Regulator’s Award has enriched Kim by more than $ 24 million and aims to create a foundation to foster a responsible corporate culture.
“The compensation I expected from the US referral program outweighed the sacrifice I had to make in South Korea,” 59-year-old Kim, who worked on the company’s quality strategy team, told Reuters on Friday.
Kim’s action led to a deal last year between Hyundai and its subsidiary, Kia, pay a record $ 210 million civil penalty in addition to the recalls involving nearly 1.7 million vehicles.
Kim, who plans to create a YouTube channel to teach people how to expose their employers’ bad behavior, learned about US law through training provided by Hyundai, inspiring him to step up, he said in a statement. interview.
“(The amount) isn’t incredible or anything like that, I’d say that’s right,” Kim said in the living room of her home in Yongin City, south of Seoul, the capital.
“That’s just the right amount when you look at what I’ve had to sacrifice, how much I’ve had to work on this,” added Kim, who said his action cost him his job and severed ties with long-time colleagues.
“After my report, I think the automakers now know that anyone can whistle and they can’t hide anything.”
Hyundai Motor Group did not comment.
The reward was the first from the US regulator and the largest in an automotive whistleblower case around the world, said law firm Constantine Cannon, representing Kim.
It comes as the U.S. regulator and transportation authorities finalize regulations for an automotive whistleblower program that Congress created in 2015.
NHTSA’s reporting program aims to help control the automotive industry by rewarding information providers on security breaches. Successful whistleblowers get a 10 to 30 percent share of the fines or penalties collected.
The regulator’s recommended amount of Kim’s premium is 30 percent of a $ 81 million upfront payment agreed by Hyundai and Kia.
“I was relieved to hear it finally came to an end,” he said, adding that he and his law firm were looking into whether he would receive more.
In the summer of 2016, Kim told US regulator Hyundai that he was not taking sufficient action to resolve an engine failure that increased the risk of accidents, citing an internal report from the strategy team to management.
The vehicle recalls between 2015 and 2017 had ranked among the company’s largest of its type in the United States.
The regulator’s investigation that began in 2017 led to its decision that the companies had failed to recall the vehicles in a timely manner, carrying last year’s $ 210 million fine.
In 2018, Reuters reported that US prosecutors were investigating whether Hyundai’s vehicle recalls had been carried out correctly.
Today, Kim feels that her endeavor has not been entirely successful.
“Those who tried to cover up the recalls at the time are still working as executives at the Hyundai Motor Group subsidiaries, which I think is the painful reality even after I managed to successfully whistle to correct things,” he said.