Korean tycoon ordered to pay $1bn in divorce
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Korean tycoon ordered to pay $1bn in divorce

SK stock soars on speculation that chairman will have to buy shares to maintain control

SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won speaks during the Nikkei Forum on the Future of Asia, in Tokyo on May 23. (Photo: Bloomberg)
SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won speaks during the Nikkei Forum on the Future of Asia, in Tokyo on May 23. (Photo: Bloomberg)

SEOUL - A South Korean court has ordered SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won to pay more than $1 billion to his estranged wife as part of their planned divorce, sending company shares surging on speculation that he will have to buy more stock to cement his control.

The Seoul High Court found Chey’s shares in the holding company SK Inc should be counted as part of the couple’s joint property, overturning a 2022 ruling by a lower court for a much smaller amount.

Chey was ordered on Thursday to pay 1.38 trillion won ($1 billion) in cash and 2 billion won in alimony to Roh Soh-yeong, the daughter of former South Korean president Roh Tae-woo.

Chey’s lawyers said he would appeal the court order.

Shares in SK Inc jumped 9% after the ruling, giving it a market value of 2 trillion won.

Chey owns 17.7% of the SK Inc and controls SK Hynix, the world’s second-largest memory chip maker, and other SK affiliates through his stake in SK Inc.

Park Ju-gun, head of the corporate analysis firm Leaders Index, said that since the court ruling did not stipulate that Chey split his stock holding with his wife, he thought the chances of increased purchases of SK Inc stock were low.

He also said that, assuming the ruling stands, he thought Chey would be unlikely to sell his shares to make the payment but would probably take out loans using his SK Inc stock as collateral.

Chey, worth an estimated $2.3 billion, met Roh while studying at the University of Chicago. They married in 1988 and had a son and two daughters together.

In 2015, Chey revealed he had a child with another woman, and two years later, he sought a divorce settlement mediated by a court. As the couple failed to reach an agreement, the case went back to court.

Roh filed a lawsuit in 2019 demanding 42.3% of Chey’s stake in SK Inc, worth about 1 trillion won at that time, and 300 million won in alimony. She later modified her claim to about 2 trillion won in cash and 3 billion won in alimony, local media reported.

In 2022, the Seoul Family Court excluded Chey’s SK Inc shares from the division, viewing them as “peculiar property” received by inheritance or gift before marriage. The court said then that it was difficult to determine whether Roh made a substantial contribution to Chey’s ownership.

The appeal court said in the new ruling that Chey’s SK Inc shares are joint property and are subject to wealth division given how long the couple was married and how their fortune was built. That’s reflected in the increased settlement, as well as Roh’s mental pain, the court said.

Chey has led SK Group since the 1998 death of his father, Chey Jong-hyon, the brother of the late founder. Under him, SK overtook Hyundai to become the country’s second-largest conglomerate, with 334 trillion won in assets this year, just behind Samsung Group, according to data compiled by the Korea Fair Trade Commission.

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