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Court orders SK chief to pay W1.4tr in divorce settlement

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : May 30, 2024 - 15:33

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SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won is photographed at a meeting with United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap) SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won is photographed at a meeting with United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The Seoul High Court on Thursday ruled in favor of Roh Soh-yeong, the estranged wife of SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, in their ongoing divorce settlement, saying that the settlement decided by the lower court was insufficient.

The appellate court overturned the initial ruling and ordered Chey to pay 1.38 trillion won ($942 million) in property division and 2 billion won in a one-off alimony payment. It said that the previously ordered alimony of 100 million won was insufficient and should be increased.

The ruling is the largest property division in a divorce case in South Korean history.

The court also emphasized that the shares of SK Group should be equitably distributed, recognizing Roh's contribution to raising the value of SK Group and its management during their marriage. Roh is the daughter of the late President Roh Tae-woo.

This decision comes approximately 18 months after the Seoul Family Court initially approved their divorce, mandating that Chey pay 100 million won in alimony and 66.5 billion won in property division in December 2022.

Roh, the director of Art Center Nabi, had originally requested 300 million won in alimony and 6.48 million SK Holdings shares, which amounted to roughly half of Chey’s assets, valued at 1.3 trillion won at the time.

However, the first trial dismissed her request, siding with Chey’s assertion that his shares were inherited and gifted properties, and that Roh had not contributed to forming the assets.

Both parties appealed the initial ruling. During the appeal, Roh increased her demand to 2 trillion won in cash for the property division and raised the alimony request to 3 billion won.

Central to the ruling was the court's judgment on the couple’s respective claims regarding their contributions to Chey’s fortune, estimated at 5 trillion won ($3.67 billion).

Chey's legal team expressed regret over the court's decision Thursday, and said it would appeal.

"We express our deepest regret that the process and conclusion of the trial was overly one-sided. The appellate court has conducted the trial in a biased and arbitrary manner as if it had already decided the outcome from the outset," the legal team announced after the trial.

Chey, who runs the country's second-largest conglomerate, and Roh married in 1988 at the Blue House and have three children.

In 2015, Chey publicly confessed to having a child out of wedlock with his live-in partner Kim Hee-young, and later filed for divorce in 2017.

Roh’s legal team argued that her late father, former President Roh, provided 34.3 billion won to Chey in the 1990s as a slush fund, which was allegedly used to acquire SK Securities and shares of Daehan Telecom, later SK Telecom, and SK Holdings.

They asserted that Chey's status as the president’s son-in-law played a crucial role in SK’s growth, and that Roh herself contributed to the group's expansion over their 36-year marriage.

Chey’s legal team denied the existence of any slush fund, pointing to the findings of a 1995 investigation into the late president's finances.

In related developments, Roh also launched a damages suit against Chey’s live-in partner Kim in March last year, demanding 3 billion won in compensation for the mental stress Kim inflicted on Roh.