Kim Woo-choong is one of the most prominent of the businessmen who transformed a dirt-poor South Korea into the economic powerhouse it is today. But the fall that resulted when his huge appetite for risk overcame financial prudence makes him one of the most tragic figures on the Asian business landscape. If it were fiction, Kim's life story would be barely credible. After his father was kidnapped by North Korean soldiers during the Korean war - he was never seen again - the young Kim became the family bread winner. He took a paper round, where he out-did competitors by taking orders and getting paid later. This would be applied to his overseas operations, when he sold cars in Britain below cost to build market share. He founded Daewoo, or 'Great Universe', as a trading company with a US$5,000 loan in 1967. It expanded into textiles, cosmetics, shipbuilding, construction, electronics and vehicles. Kim was a renowned workaholic. He took his first day off in 1990, at age 54, to attend the funeral of his son, who died in a road accident. Unlike the heads of Samsung, Hyundai, LG and SK empires, he was not known for nepotism. But his ambition over-reached. Daewoo was massively leveraged, and Kim made enemies in government when he criticised reform policies implemented in the wake of the 1997-98 financial crisis. With his company on the brink of bankruptcy, Kim disappeared in 1999. Although an international arrest warrant was issued in 2001, he had been spotted in France, Vietnam and elsewhere. Why he is returning is unclear. Some rumours say he is sick; others, that he has brokered a deal with President Roh Moo-hyun. In any case, the public view is mixed. 'I don't think people think of him as a hero, but they are sympathetic for his contribution to growth,' said Yonsei University business professor Hahm Jae-hoon. 'However, they also understand that the huge amounts injected into banks that lent to Daewoo harmed the country.' Assuming he escapes jail, Kim's next move will bear watching. Local media report that supporters are pooling money for a business comeback. Another possible outlet for his legendary energy could be writing. His autobiography, detailing the founding of Daewoo and tips for entrepreneurial success, was a bestseller in 1992. A sequel detailing the collapse of his great universe would be equally compelling.