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November 30, 2016

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Samsung may split under reform plan

SAMSUNG Electronics said yesterday that it is considering splitting the company into two as it faces growing pressure to overhaul its governance during a crucial power transfer in top management.

The announcement came as the South Korean electronics giant is seeking to ensure a smooth succession to Lee Jae-Yong, the firm’s vice chairman and scion of the parent Samsung group’s founding Lee family.

It is also struggling to contain the fallout from a global recall of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone caused by exploding batteries as well as a snowballing political scandal in South Korea.

The firm said in a statement that it would consider breaking into a holding company and a producing and operating unit, and would take at least six months to study the option.

It also said it would raise its dividend payout to shareholders to more than 4 trillion won (US$3.4 billion) this year, up over 30 percent from a year ago.

Other options on the table include plans to nominate at least one new independent board member with “global corporate experience” for approval at an annual shareholders’ meeting next March.

The plans suggest the firm is listening to calls for change after US hedge fund Elliott last month urged it to divide into listed holding and operating firms to streamline a byzantine ownership structure.

The US firm also called for an increase in share dividends, the addition of new independent board members and a listing in New York.

The Lee family controls the vast Samsung group — South Korea’s top business group — through a web of complicated cross shareholdings among its units including the flagship Samsung Electronics.

“Samsung addressed a strong determination to overhaul its governance structure,” said Lee Sang-Hun, analyst at Hi Investment & Securities.

The latest announcement implies that the firm would eventually split to set up a holding company “in May or June next year,” he added.

But he warned the growing political scandal surrounding President Park Geun-Hye that has engulfed the company could delay the overhaul.

Park and her confidante, Choi Soon-Sil, are accused of coercing major firms into donating tens of millions of dollars to non-profit foundations Choi used as her personal ATMs.

Samsung made the biggest contribution of 20 billion won and is accused of separately offering millions of euros to Choi for her daughter’s equestrian training in Germany.

The scandal saw the Samsung group’s headquarters raided by authorities multiple times and several top managers including Lee Jae-Yong summoned to answer prosecutors’ questions.



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