SEOUL (Reuters) – Lee Kun-hee, who manufactures Samsung Electronics at a global powerhouse in smartphones, semiconductors and TVs, died on Sunday after spending more than six years in hospital after suffering a heart attack.
Lee, who was 78, developed the Samsung Group into the largest group in South Korea and became the country’s richest person. But he was also convicted of bribery and tax evasion, and he and the empire he had created to create enormous economic domination, and for opaque regimes and suspected transfers of family funds.
Chung Sun-su, chief executive of corporate researcher firm Chebul.com, said, “Lee admits to South Korea’s spectacular rise and how South Korea’s globalization is considered a symbolic figure.”
According to data from the Fair Trade Commission and Reuters calculations, Samsung Group affiliates had earnings of 326.7 trillion ($ 289.6 billion) in 2019, equivalent to about 17% of South Korea’s GDP.
Lee died with his family, the group said.
At 5 pm (0800 GMT), JY Lee, son of Lee, vice president of Samsung Electronics, wearing a face mask, drove to the Samsung Medical Center where a memorial was being placed. One memorial said that the area for the memorial was limited to 50 people.
The funeral will be a small family affair, Samsung said. It did not say when or where the funeral will take place.
Lee’s aggressive bets on new businesses, especially semiconductors, helped his father Lee Byung-Chull grow from a noodle trading business to a global powerhouse with assets of $ 375 billion, ranging from electronics and insurance to shipbuilding and Dozens of associates were involved until construction.
“Their legacy will end forever,” Samsung said in a statement.
The President’s Office said there are plans to send flowers of condolences to the funeral of South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, and to pay his respects to Chief of Staff Noh Young-min and Senior President’s Secretary Lee Ho-seung Send for
President Moon said, according to the Lee family, “The leadership they showed will be a great example and courage for our companies as they transcend the crises and challenges that coronaviruses cause.” President’s Office.
Lee is the latest generation leader of a group controlled by the South Korean family, or chambol to die, leaving possible thorny succession issues for the third generation.
The ruling party leader and former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon praised Lee’s leadership, but said, “It cannot be denied that he reinforced the chaebol-led economic structure and failed to recognize labor unions.” “
Lee’s death, with total assets of $ 20.9 billion according to Forbes, is set to inspire investor interest in a possible restructuring of the group involving its stakes in major Samsung companies such as Samsung Life Insurance and Samsung Electronics.
Lee owns 20.76% of the insurance company and is the largest individual shareholder of Samsung Electronics with a 4.18% stake.
JY Lee has been embroiled in legal woes related to the merger of two Samsung partners, which helped him gain more control over the group’s flagship Samsung Electronics.
Chhote Lee served jail time for his role in the bribery scandal, leading to the impeachment of then-President Park Geun-hye. The hearing on the appeal of the case is scheduled to resume on Monday. This month saw a separate trial on allegations of accounting fraud and stock price manipulation.
“With Lee Passing, Samsung Group is now facing the largest governance shake-up since the merger between Chile Industries and Samsung C&T,” said Ahaan Sang-hee, corporate governance expert at Dashin Economic Research Institute.
“For JY Lee, getting the most share of Lee Kun-hee-hold is more important than ever,” Ahan said. “The key here is with taxes. There are major barriers to coming up with substantial taxes related to inheritance and avoiding potential disputes with her sisters. “
It is unclear how the elder Lee’s three children and his wife would divide their wealth, an issue that led to family feuds in other chaebols after his father’s death.
“It has been six years since Lee was hospitalized, so Samsung would go through a gradual succession if there was agreement between the children. If not, a quarrel is likely, ”said Park Sang-in, a professor at Seoul National University.
The group did not state the cause of death and declined to comment on whether Lee left the will.
In 1987, Lee became chairman of the Samsung Group, but had to resign for more than a decade after being convicted of bribing the country’s president.
He was again convicted in 2008 of breach of trust and embezzlement, but a long-time member of the International Olympic Committee was forgiven for helping the country’s bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“Chairman Lee was a true visionary who transformed Samsung from a local business to a world-leading innovator and industrial powerhouse,” Samsung said.
Reports by Joyce Lee, Cynthie Kim and Hyunju Jin; Additional reporting by Dae-Wong Kim and Soo-hyun Mah; Editing by Meong Kim, William Mallard and Susan Fenton