Samsung Chairman Lee Kun Hee Has Just Died — Here’s Why It May Be Devastating To South Korea’s Economy

South Korea’s economy could be heading towards instability.

Samsung Group‘s chairman Lee Kun Hee has just passed away — and his passing could have some serious implications to the South Korean economy as a whole.

The late chairman Lee Kun Hee. | Donga

Samsung announced Lee Kun Hee passed away at the age of 78 on October 25, KST.

We have decided to hold a simple funeral in accordance with the wishes of the bereaved’s family.

We politely decline all condolence visits and funeral wreaths.

— Samsung

Lee Kun Hee was the second chairman of Samsung Group, taking over in 1987 after his father Lee Byung Chul, founder of Samsung. However, in April 2014, he suffered a heart attack and was required to be hospitalized, but simply disappeared from the public eye. Since his hospitalization, he was not seen by a single public source until the announcement of his death, nearly 6 years and 6 months later.

The reason why his death is so important and has so much influence on the South Korean economy is because in an average year, Samsung products account for 20% of the exports for the entire country of South Korea.

Overall, Samsung controls around 40% of market capitalization in South Korea, triple the amount of the next highest conglomerate, Hyundai’s. The impact that a Samsung stock crash or volatility could have on the economy is huge.

In addition, due to South Korea’s inheritance laws, any inheritance over ₩3 billion KRW is taxed at a massive 50% rate. Adjusted for the current KRW to USD ratio, that is over $2.7 million USD. As it stands, Lee Kun Hee’s family will be receiving an inheritance of around ₩16.8 trillion KRW, which is around $14.9 billion USD. $7.45 billion of that will go straight into the government’s wallets, meaning Lee Kun Hee’s family will be forced to sell off their personal assets, weakening control.

His death is also significant as it was personally announced by Samsung. Back in 2014, a whistleblower reported his death, but no follow up was provided as the whistleblower mysteriously disappeared shortly after. It is widely assumed by reporters that Samsung was actively trying to hide Lee Kun Hee’s condition.

Due to the scale of Samsung and the requirement of the sale of assets, there is concern of volatility in the stock market when the bell rings at 9am KST on October 26, the first day of trading following the weekend. This may give investors time to investigate the situation, but there will undoubtedly be some who immediately sell their shares.

However, it is entirely possible that Samsung has worked things out with the government, leading to the decision to officially announce his death.

The question also now turns to the following: Who will take over the chairman position for Samsung? As the position is likely to stay within the immediate family, the top three candidates are his remaining children: Lee Jae Yong, Lee Boo Jin, and Lee Seo Hyun. A third daughter, Lee Yoon Hyung, took her own life in 2005. There is disagreement on whether there will be a power struggle to claim the chairman position, or if it will be solved amicably.

Lee Jae Yong is the frontrunner for the chairman position, being the only son and the most well-known child. He is already the Vice Chairman at Samsung, and has been the most public of the three children. He has had his share of controversies, however, being implicated for bribery during the former president Park Geun Hye‘s scandal.


Lee Boo Jin is considered the main rival to Lee Jae Yong. As president of Hotel Shilla and co-president of Cheil Industries, she has shown herself capable of management and business — with two of her biggest accomplishments being the introduction of global luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton to Incheon International Airport, making it the first storefront in an airport in the world, and being credited with the rise and success of duty-free stores in Korea.

| Lee Jae Won/Reuters

Lee Seo Hyun is widely not considered a potential candidate for the chairman position, as she tends to stay more under-the-radar, managing Samsung’s fashion business. Their companies include 8seconds and BEANPOLE.

| Thesun
Source: Asia Kyungje