The Korea Herald


Chairman’s divorce plea clouds SK’s future

By KH디지털2

Published : Dec. 30, 2015 - 13:32

    • Link copied

SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won’s unexpected public plea for a divorce from his wife Tuesday drew people’s attention to the future of the country’s fourth-largest conglomerate. 

Chey Tae-won (left), Roh Soh-yeong (Yonhap) Chey Tae-won (left), Roh Soh-yeong (Yonhap)

While at present his wife, Art Center Nabi director Roh Soh-yeong, has no say in the management -- holding 0.01 percent stake in SK Corp. and SK Innovation each -- the divorce could lead to a split of Chey’s stake in SK Group, valued at 4.2 trillion won ($3.5 billion). This would definitely be a game changer in the company’s control tower, observers say.

Chey has a 23.4 percent stake in SK Corp., 0.05 percent of ordinary stocks and 3.11 percent of preferred stocks in SK Chemicals shares and more.

According to market reports, Roh has refused to divorce. The 51-year-old reportedly told her confidants that she has been in the know of Chey’s adultery and his six-year-old lovechild for more than six years. She offered to take the child under her wings and save the family from breaking up.

This implies that Chey will have to fight a long court battle for the divorce to be legally consummated with his mistress as he had vowed.

“There have been market rumors that Roh is demanding the control of SK Innovation, Chemicals and Telecom, which are SK’s key business units. While it is unlikely that Chey will give in, the court rulings may not be so generous to him,” a business insider said.

The public has often attributed SK Group’s successful transition from a textile company to a high-tech conglomerate to his father-in-law, former President Roh Tae-woo who reigned from 1988-1993.

Several books and newspaper articles note that the senior Roh masterminded SK Group’s acquisition of Yukong (Korean National Oil Corp.) in 1980, when he was one of the key confidants of then President Chun Doo-hwan.

After their marriage in 1988, SK won the license to acquire the state-run telecommunications company. Albeit a few glitches, this paved the way for the founding family to establish the current SK Telecom, the country’s largest telecom service provider.

“The amount of wealth Chey has accumulated after marrying Roh is substantial and should they go to court, the judges will have to acknowledge her contribution to the company’s growth, thus granting her a huge alimony,” the pundit said.

“Roh has a reputation of being a devoted wife and mother, a good manager and a humble and intelligent person. These will also burden Chey,” he added.

Regardless of the divorce turnout, the SK stock prices plummeted, reflecting the market concerns over the so-called owners’ risk.

The share price of SK Telecom dropped to 215,000 won on Tuesday, and slightly rose to 216,500 won as of Wednesday, the lowest levels this year.

“Even though the divorce is a personal matter, the chief’s adultery, a lovechild and a very open demand for a divorce from his wife of more than two decades could easily make many people question his sense of morality,” a market observer suggested.

“Especially for Chey who has been convicted of various economic crimes including embezzlement and breach of conduct, this all comes down to ethics. And this divorce is not an ordinary one as it could shake the governance structure of the company. Koreans and investors have a good reason to be worried,” he added. 

“As of Wednesday we do not have any information about the whereabouts of the chairman nor the proceedings of the divorce,” an SK spokeswoman said.

By Bae Ji-sook (