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Samsung-Elliot battle exposes vulnerability of chaebol firms

The battle between a U.S. hedge fund and Samsung Group over a proposed merger may not be the only such case as several other corporate giants have large foreign ownership that could also get in the way of managerial decisions, data showed Wednesday.

Elliott Management is trying to block the proposed merger between Samsung C&T Co. and Cheil Industries Inc. via stake acquisition and legal action, saying the move does not serve in the best interest of shareholders.

Samsung, which is preparing a third-generation leadership transition through a series of stake deals, is stepping up efforts to fend off the challenge in next month's vote on the 9 billion won ($8 million) deal.

The fund's defiant move has increasingly shed light on the role of foreign investors at other family-run conglomerates, called chaebol, as more are raising their voices when management is seen benefiting the owner family at the expense of other shareholders.

At a number of companies, foreigners' collective move to gain a majority in votes could effectively block such managerial decisions as M&As and stock issuances.

Among 187 subsidiaries of the nation's top 30 business groups, 13 firms had a higher share of foreign ownership than controlling shareholders and investors who have special interest in them, according to data compiled by corporate tracker CEO Score.

A dozen companies showed a very narrow gap between shares held by major shareholders and foreign investors, while 42 firms had a single foreign investor holding more than 5 percent of shares, it said.

By group, Samsung, the nation's leading conglomerate with 67 units, had seven firms falling into that category, followed by four under LG Group.

Chip giant SK hynix, the nation's second-biggest firm by market value, showed the highest ratio of foreign ownership at 53.2 percent.

Foreign investors came into the spotlight when Schindler Holdings AG opposed Hyundai Elevator Co.'s announcement in April of a plan to increase paid-in capital, a move widely seen as preparing for Hyundai Group's leadership transition.

The Swiss-based group said it would boycott the plan it deemed as hurting shareholders' interests, slamming the management's "unnecessary and abusive conduct."

South Korea lowered restrictions on foreign investment following the 1997-98 financial crisis. The nation saw a sharp hike in foreign holdings, which rose to as much as 40 percent. (Yonhap)

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