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Samsung heiress ends storied marriage

Ending a long-drawn dramatic episode that captivated the nation, Lee Boo-jin, the eldest daughter of Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee, legally ended her 17-year marriage Thursday.

According to Samsung officials, the Seongnam branch of the Suwon District Court ruled in favor of the 46-year-old chaebol scion who filed for divorce from her husband Lim Woo-jae in October 2014.
Lee Boo-jin Yonhap
Lee Boo-jin Yonhap

Lee, who heads Samsung affiliate Hotel Shilla, had reportedly fallen out with her 48-year-old husband in recent years over unspecified reasons. Neither Lee nor Lim -- currently a Samsung adviser -- attended the legal proceedings.

The court also granted Lee custody of their 7-year-old son, allowing Lim a monthly visit.

The division of assets was not discussed, Lee’s legal representatives said. Forbes magazine, which selected her as one of world’s 100 most powerful women in 2015, estimates her wealth at $1.91 billion.

The ruling marked the conclusion of what Korean media dubbed a “Cinderella relationship” between the heiress and eldest daughter of the wealthiest man in Korea and a rank-and-file employee.

The two met in 1995 and married four years later, facing feverish opposition from both families which rumors say involved a “hunger strike” by Lee.

Lim, who started out as a tech team employee, worked at Samsung C&T and Samsung Electronics before being appointed vice chairman of Samsung Electro-Mechanics in 2005.

But Lim was said to have struggled to fit into the culture of the superrich, being the only member of Samsung’s owner family who was not from chaebol lineage. There were also reports that the two had been living separately since 2012.

Lim had reportedly opposed a divorce. His attorney said his client is planning to appeal the case, complaining over the loss of custody over his son, heralding a prolonged legal battle.

The former couple failed to reach an agreement over the custody of their son, leading to a lawsuit.

Lee became the second divorcee among Samsung chairman Lee’s three children, after her older brother Jae-yong in 2009 parted ways with Lim Se-ryeong, the daughter of the Daesang Group’s honorary chairman Lim Chang-wook.

Lee, dubbed by media as “little Lee Kun-hee” for similarities with her father in terms of leadership and personality, has been praised for her management skills.

When she took the helm of Hotel Shilla in 2001, the company posted 430 billion won ($354 million) in annual sales. The figure skyrocketed to an all-time high of 2.9 trillion won in 2014.

The jump in sales was buoyed mostly by the company’s robust expansion of its duty-free sector.

In cooperation with Hyundai Development, Hotel Shilla launched a joint venture to run urban duty-free outlets in Seoul by opening HDC-Shilla Duty Free store. It also acquired U.S.-based DFASS Group, a retailer supplying duty-free items to airlines, in a bid to expand its foothold overseas and the in-flight duty market.

Earlier this month, Shilla Hotel took the top spot in the Korea Productivity Center’s annual National Customer Satisfaction Index survey for the second year running.

With the country seeing a drop in number of Chinese tourists during the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome last year, Lee signed a memorandum of understanding with Chinese online travel agency Ctrip to develop tour packages for customers from the world’s second-largest economy.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)
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