Samsung exec plays down possible ownership restructuring

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Samsung Electronics has damped growing investor expectations for changes in its ownership structure, saying that it will be difficult at this point to adopt a holding company structure – one of the key demands by US activist hedge fund Elliott Management.

Kwon Oh-hyun, the company’s chief executive, said at the annual shareholder meeting on Friday that Samsung continued to review “all the options from multiple perspective, including legal, tax and strategic aspects,” but the process has “revealed certain adverse implications in such a transition, at this point, we see challenges in implementing a holding company structure.”

His comments offered investors their first glimpse into how Samsung is viewing potential restructuring in its governance structure amid a leadership vacuum, with its de facto leader Lee Jae-yong standing trial over his role in the massive political corruption scandal that has toppled South Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye.

His comments have also reinforced some analysts’ predictions that Mr Lee’s absence would put his top agenda items such as governance reform, major acquisitions, and plans to improve shareholder returns on hold until his legal case is resolved.

Mr Lee remains in custody, charged with bribery, embezzlement and other financial offences. His trial began earlier this month with the first court verdict expected in May.

Shareholders on Friday complained about Samsung’s involvement in the corruption scandal, piling pressure on the group to improve its poor corporate governance. Mr Kwon has pledged to take further steps to boost transparency in the company’s decision-making process by strengthening the role of its board of directors.

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