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[Newsmaker] Samsung heir may get promoted to chairman following father's passing

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)
Speculation is growing over when Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong would take the position of chairman in South Korea's largest conglomerate following his father's death, industry insiders said Tuesday, though the heir has already been recognized as the tech giant's de facto leader.

His father and a longtime Samsung Group head, Lee Kun-hee, died Sunday at age 78, more than six years after being hospitalized for a heart attack.

Jae-yong, the eldest scion and the only son of the late Samsung chief, has been spearheading the group's management since May 2014, when his father collapsed due to a heart attack.

In 2018, the country's fair trade watchdog recognized him as the chief of the conglomerate.

However, the 52-year-old Samsung Electronics vice chairman has yet to take the chairman title for Samsung, while chiefs of other major conglomerates have been using that title in South Korea.

With Hyundai Motor Group heir Chung Euisun promoted to the position of chairman earlier this month, Lee is now the only man among chiefs of the country's top four conglomerates who does not hold chairmanship title.

"It appears that Lee has been thinking that it was not right for him to take the chairman title while his father was alive," said one executive from a local conglomerate under condition of anonymity. "Since Lee has already been recognized as the de facto leader of Samsung by others, he may not have a big interest in getting the chairman title."

Samsung has been saying that nothing has been discussed on Lee's promotion, but following his father's death, industry insiders speculate that the group will start to review Jae-yong's title.

In Lee Kun-hee's case, he took the chairman title 20 days after his father and Samsung Group founder Lee Byung-chull died in November 1987. Kun-hee was only 45 when he officially succeeded his father.

But some observers said Jae-yong's promotion to chairman may not be possible for the time being since he is currently dealing with trials that could put him in jail again.

Lee was indicted last month for his alleged role in a controversial merger and fraudulent accounting related with his succession.

Prosecutors suspect that Lee and the group's top management were involved in a calibrated scheme to intentionally lower the value of Samsung C&T Corp. prior to its merger with Cheil Industries Inc. in 2015 so as to facilitate Lee's managerial succession from his father.

He is also up against another round of trials in a corruption case that led to the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye. Lee already served around a year in prison for the case.

Lee was released in February 2018 after an appellate court handed him a suspended sentence, but six months later, the country's top court ordered a review of the suspended sentence.

"Lee Jae-yong is a businessman who now represents not only Samsung but also South Korea," an official with a local conglomerate said. "It is expected that Samsung would discuss his promotion, but it's his court cases that matters." (Yonhap)
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