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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 June, 2003, 06:47 GMT 07:47 UK
S Korea to probe chaebols
An arrival at SK Global's headquarters
SK Global is only the latest in chaebol scandals
South Korea's chief anti-trust regulator has promised a fresh investigation into the behaviour of the country's trouble-hit conglomerates in the wake of the scandal surrounding SK Group, the fourth biggest such group.

The inquiry begins this month and is scheduled to take 50 days as it digs into the affairs of 20 subsidiaries of six different business empires: SK itself, along with Samsung - particularly its microchip offshoot - LG, Hyundai Motor, Hyundai Heavy Industries and Hyundai Corp.

The Fair Trade Commission's chairman, Kang Chul-Kyu, said he planned to look particularly closely at transactions between group companies which could be unfair to outside bidders, and at allegations of accounting irregularities.

It was $1.2bn in such irregularities that brought SK Global, the trading arm of the SK Group, to the brink of insolvency and rocked the broader financial markets until a government bailout calmed nerves.

SK's creditors now want the trading arm's shares written off before they are prepared to swap their loans for new equity, but SK Corp, the country's biggest refiner, is so far offering only about half its 1.5 trillion won in shares.

Chaebols under fire

SK has been only the sharpest recent reminder of the turmoil that the chaebols, or conglomerates, have undergone since the Asian currency meltdown of 1997.

The currency crash triggered by the flight of hot money from developing economies exposed gaping holes in the chaebols' financial architecture, ripping apart some of the groups which have dominated the Korean economy for decades.

But many still remain, and tackling the distortions they cause in the economy is a key test of President Roh Moo-Hyun's 100-day-old government.

Despite the slowdown in the economy, reform is seen as urgent, and FTC Chairman Kang Chul-Kyu confirmed that he was ready to push for corporate restructuring "even if the economy is in a down-cycle".

"The probe is needed to promote corporate transparency," he said.

SK holds out bailout hope
29 May 03  |  Business
Trade suspended in Korean giant
31 Mar 03  |  Business
Korean boss summonsed
05 Mar 03  |  Business

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