SK’s Chey ordered to pay $1B to estranged wife in ‘divorce of the century’

Posted on : 2024-05-31 17:34 KST Modified on : 2024-05-31 17:54 KST
The SK Group chairman’s stake in the chaebol group was also deemed subject to the division of marital assets
Roh Soh-yeong, the director of the Art Center Nabi; SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won. (Yonhap)
Roh Soh-yeong, the director of the Art Center Nabi; SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won. (Yonhap)

A South Korean high court has ordered Chey Tae-won, the chairman of the SK Group, to pay his estranged wife Roh Soh-yeong around 1.4 trillion won (approximately US$1 billion) in asset splitting in their divorce proceedings. That’s more than 20 times the 100 million won in alimony and 66.5 billion won in asset splitting that had been earlier ordered by a district court. This is apparently the largest asset split ever ordered by a Korean divorce court. 

The Seoul High Court ruled on Thursday that Chey must pay Roh 200 million won in alimony and 1.38 trillion won in asset division, with all payments made in cash. 

Chey had petitioned for divorce mediation with Roh in July 2017 and when that didn’t work out sued for divorce the next year. Roh had been opposed to divorce, but in December 2019 she countersued, asking for 300 million won in alimony and 50% of Chey’s stake in SK (worth about 1 trillion won), kicking litigation into high drive. 

The chief dispute was whether Chey’s SK stock was subject to the division of marital assets. When a district court ordered Chey to pay 100 million won in alimony and 66.5 billion won in asset splitting in December 2022, it said the SK stock shouldn’t be split between the two because there was little reason to think Roh had contributed substantially to acquiring and maintaining the stock or increasing its value. 

In effect, the court sided with Chey’s claim that the stock represented a “special asset” that he’d received through an inheritance from his late father, Chey Jong-hyon. Chey said the stock shouldn’t be split because he’d been in line to receive the stock even before his marriage. 

But the high court came to a strikingly different conclusion about the SK stock. “We should presume that Roh contributed to the SK [stock]’s appreciation. Chey came into possession of that stock during his marriage, and as for the formation of that stock, including the listing of public companies, it appears that Chey’s father received a considerable amount of funding from former President Roh Tae-woo [Roh So-yeong’s father] around 1991. It’s also assumed that [Roh Tae-woo] provided less tangible forms of assistance as well,” the court explained. 

“President Roh served as a shield when former SK Chairman Chey Jong-hyon was acquiring Pacific Securities and getting into the telecommunications business,” the court added. 

Calculating Chey Tae-won and Roh Soh-yeong’s total assets as being worth about 4.12 trillion won, the court ordered they be split between the two at a ratio of 65 to 35. Roh’s share of 35% was reduced by the 20 billion won already in her possession, leaving 1.38 trillion won for Chey to pay his estranged wife in cash. 

The court also remonstrated Chey for his “complete disrespect for the institution of monogamy,” referring to his long-running affair with Chloe Hee-young Kim, the director of the T&C Foundation. 

Following the court’s ruling, Roh’s attorney said, “We’re satisfied that the amount [recognized] is much higher than in the original decision. We’ll take further measures after reviewing the specifics of the decision.” 

Chey’s attorney contended that the court had “revealed each of Roh’s one-sided claims as if they were facts,” which it characterized as a “blatant violation of the principle of the privacy of family court.” The attorney also said that Chey intends to appeal the decision, noting that “none of the various alleged benefits, either tangible or intangible, including access to slush funds during the Roh administration, have ever been substantiated.” 

By Jang Hyeon-eun, staff reporter 

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr

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