Samsung execs face probe over share trade

SEOUL • South Korea's financial regulator is investigating allegations of insider trading by officials at Samsung Group before the merger of two key affiliates by the country's biggest conglomerate.

Mr Kim Hong Sik, an official at the Financial Services Commission, yesterday said the probe includes shares traded before Cheil Industries agreed to buy Samsung C&T Corp.

The all-stock merger was valued at US$9.3 billion (S$13.1 billion) when it was announced in May. Cheil's acquisition, which helped the Lee family boost their control of the chaebol, was one of the most controversial in South Korean history as billionaire activist investor Paul Elliott Singer bought a stake in C&T and sought to block the deal.

Korea Exchange found that nine high-ranking officials from as many as four Samsung companies bought Cheil stock in April and May, reported Yonhap News Agency.

"We have recently launched an investigation into alleged insider trading raised by the Korea Exchange," Mr Kim said.

He declined to elaborate, including whether the trades were done by a group of people or individuals, their timing and size.

"We understand the investigation involving certain individuals is still in its early stage," Samsung said in an e-mail.

"We will wait until the authorities conclude their investigation."

Shares of Cheil, which adopted the C&T name after the deal, rose on eight of the nine trading days before disclosing the all-stock deal on May 26.

They reached 188,000 won (S$229) the day of the announcement - 19 per cent above their price at the start of the month.

Elliott Associates opposed the deal, going to court and lobbying investors as Mr Singer said it undervalued the construction firm.

The merger eventually passed after the Lee family gained the support of other shareholders.

A successful deal was critical to the founding Lee family because C&T held key stakes in other affiliates, including shares of Samsung Electronics - South Korea's biggest company.

Samsung C&T is controlled by the Lee family and is the Samsung Group's de facto holding company.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2015, with the headline 'Samsung execs face probe over share trade'. Print Edition | Subscribe