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Regulator allows Lone Star to sell KEB to Hana

FSC paves the way for the country’s biggest banking takeover amid protests


Korea’s financial regulators on Friday paved the way for Lone Star Funds, convicted of stock manipulation, to take huge premiums from selling its stake in Korea Exchange Bank.

The nine-member panel of the Financial Services Commission chose not to take stern action against the U.S.-based fund, ordering it to sell most of its KEB shares to any investor within six months.

Under the decision, the fund is entitled to select an acquirer and enjoy management premiums totaling at least 1 trillion won ($877 billion) from its coming stake disposal ― despite an Oct. 6 ruling that Lone Star manipulated stocks.

Following the ruling, The FSC held an extraordinary meeting composed of the nine-member panel at 2 p.m. to discuss how it would order the fund to sell the KEB shares.

In a statement, the FSC said the panel decided to order Lone Star to sell its 41.02 percent of KEB, leaving it with a 10 percent stake in tthe bank.

If a Korean bank’s biggest shareholder violates banking laws it is disqualified from owning the lender, being barred from holding more than a 10 percent stake.

But the panel’s decision is drawing wide interest about whether the FSC abused its authority. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether the FSC should make public its decision on the eligibility of Lone Star as the biggest shareholder of KEB.

The Supreme Court has been reviewing the appeal from the FSC, which lost the original and second trials.

As the FSC decided to take measures “only” against Lone Star’s stock rigging without taking the ongoing trial into consideration, the regulator may be faced with criminal responsibility.

If the fund is found to have been a non-financial investor, Lone Star’s acquisition of KEB in 2003 could be invalidated.

Further, the issue of the fund’s shareholder eligibility involving the FSC’s obligation has also been under the scrutiny of the Constitutional Court and the prosecution, respectively.

“Even if Lone Star is found to be a non-financial investor, there is no legal backgrounds to take stern measures (banning it from selecting a stake acquirer),” an FSC official told a news conference after the panel meeting.

The nine member panel is composed of FSC Chairman Kim Seok-dong, Financial Supervisory Service Gov. Kwon Hyouk-se, FSC Vice Chairman Choo Kyung-ho, FSC standing commissioner Lee Sang-che, FSC standing commissioner Lee Suk-joon, FSC non-standing commissioner Shin In-sook, Vice Finance Minister Shin Je-yoon, Korea Deposit Insurance Corp. president Lee Seung-woo, and Bank of Korea senior deputy Gov. Lee Ju-yeol.

Further at issue is the relationship between FSC Chairman Kim Seok-dong and the buyout fund controlling KEB for the past eight years.

In 2003, Kim was one of the key figures getting regulatory approval for Lone Star’s acquisition of KEB. He was serving as FSC director general in charge of the working-level endorsement process.

Kim was also one of the figures from Cheong Wa Dae, the finance ministry and KEB who participated in a behind-the-scenes meeting to discuss the M&A issue at a hotel in Seoul in July 2003.

Later, between 2004 and 2010, he mostly worked for the Finance Ministry. He was then appointed to the post of FSC chairman in January 2011.

When he came back to the regulatory body, the Lone Star issue was rekindled as Hana Financial applied for the KEB takeover endorsement in December 2010.

Leaders in the financial market say that Kim has been put in an awkward position amid ongoing protests by the KEB labor union that Lone Star is “speculative capital,” and with a growing number of Koreans acquainted with dubious approvals by the FSC.

“Financial authorities should have not handed over the bank to a fund,” a former high-ranking official of the FSC told The Korea Herald.

Commenting on the relationship between Kim and Lone Star, he said, “Those kinds of fund investors are not allowed to own a Korean bank unless there is a law revision.”

Irrespective of a future revision, the former regulatory official said he is one of the opponents of the sale of a local financial company to funds like Lone Star.

An incumbent FSC official also said it seemed that “few FSC staffers believe Love Star is a financial investor” which could be entitled to own a Korean commercial bank.

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com)
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