Samsung windfall gives richest South Korean woman US$7 billion fortune

Ms Hong Ra-hee received the biggest slice of the late Mr Lee Kun-hee's stake in Samsung Electronics.
Ms Hong Ra-hee received the biggest slice of the late Mr Lee Kun-hee's stake in Samsung Electronics.PHOTO: FORBES

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Ra-hee, the wife of the late Samsung group chairman Lee Kun-hee, boosted her fortune to more than US$7 billion (S$9.3 billion) after receiving billions of dollars in stocks in the much-awaited transfer of her husband's assets.

Ms Hong, 75, inherited about 83 million shares in Samsung Electronics, making her the largest individual shareholder in the tech giant with a 2.3 per cent stake, according to a filing last week. Ms Hong is the richest woman in South Korea with a net worth of US$7.4 billion as of Monday's stock-market close, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

It's another consequence of the massive passing of wealth after Mr Lee's death, which saw his son Jay Y. cement control over the group after his holdings rose significantly in key affiliates. The late Mr Lee's only son is worth US$12.6 billion, according to the index, while his sisters Boo-jin and Seo-hyun saw their wealth swell to US$5 billion and US$4.4 billion, respectively.

"It's a win-win situation for the family members," said Park Ju-gun, head of research firm Leaders Index. "It has ensured more stable control for Jay Y. Lee, while other family members get more of a voice with their increased stakes."

A Samsung Electronics spokeswoman declined to comment on the family's net worth.

The drama over succession at South Korea's largest company has roiled the country since the late Lee, the patriarch and longtime head of Samsung Electronics, suffered a heart attack in 2014. Jay Y. Lee has been accused in two different lawsuits of illegal behavior to ensure control over the conglomerate and is currently serving a jail sentence after a conviction for bribery in the first case.

Ms Hong received the biggest slice of the late Mr Lee's stake in Samsung Electronics as it was divided in a 3:2:2:2 ratio between her and her three children. Ms Hong got about 33 per cent of the shareholding, while her children each received about 22 per cent, according to the legally prescribed ratio.

Stock holdings in the conglomerate's other key affiliates, its de facto holding company Samsung C&T and Samsung SDS, were transferred according to the same ratio.

But Jay Y. was able to tighten his grip as he received half his father's shares in Samsung Life Insurance, raising his stake to more than 10 per cent from 0.06 per cent. Samsung Life owns 8.5 per cent of Samsung Electronics.

Last week, the family announced its plan to pay one of the largest inheritance-tax bills at more than 12 trillion won (S$14.25 billion), as well as its intention to donate 1 trillion won for medical facilities and about 23,000 works of art, including pieces by Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet.

Ms Hong led Samsung's Leeum museum, which houses works such as Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Untitled (Black Figure)" and Gerhard Richter's "Two Candles." She resigned as director in 2017, and hasn't taken any management roles at Samsung companies.

"It's an extraordinary concentration of wealth," Mr Park said. "This single family's fortune creates inequality even among conglomerates."