As a student, Park Young Sun always enjoyed standing up to the big boys.
“She was the unofficial head of all the girls and would confront boys that bullied or played pranks on them,” said Bruce Lee, a fund manager who first met the three-term opposition lawmaker almost five decades ago when they were seven-year-olds in elementary school in Seoul.
Park has shifted her sights from schoolyard bullies to business titans and her latest target is as powerful as they come: the family behind the nation’s biggest conglomerate or chaebol, Samsung Group. She says they should pay back profits from a 1999 deal later ruled by courts to be illegal -- money she says the family may use to fund the transfer of assets to the children of Samsung patriarch Lee Kun Hee. Lee remains hospitalized following a heart attack.
“The average South Korean salary-man has to honestly pay tax even when their inheritance is small, whereas chaebol members like the Lees can make enormous profits from illegal transactions to pay their tax,” Park said in an interview last month at her lawmaker’s office in Seoul, echoing previous statements she’s made about the transaction.
Samsung Group declined to comment on the SDS transaction.
The fight over the family’s Samsung SDS Co. profits illustrates the growing public resentment toward the industrial groups including Samsung that led South Korea’s rapid economic rise, the so-called Miracle on the Han. The ill-feeling was central to the 2012 presidential election, when voters seeking limits on chaebol dominance won concessions even from President Park Geun Hye’s traditionally pro-business party.
The Seoul High Court handed Samsung Chairman Lee a three- year suspended sentence in 2009 and fined him 110 billion won ($99 million) for tax evasion and breach-of-duty on grounds that he and his family benefited from an illegal transfer of wealth in the SDS deal. Lee also made voluntary payments including to Samsung’s own charity.
Samsung Group declined to comment on the payments.
When SDS held an initial public offering last year, it revealed the market value of the family’s stake for the first time. The listing netted Lee’s children, including his presumed heir Lee Jae Yong, about 2.4 trillion won, more than three times more than Lee’s fine and voluntary payments combined, according to Park’s office.