Woori will be sold by end of 2014: FSC head

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Woori will be sold by end of 2014: FSC head

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Financial Services Commission Chairman Shin Je-yoon, center right, walks with journalists and explains the financial regulator’s plan to sell Woori Financial Group at the Seoul Zoo forest in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi, on Saturday. Provided by the FSC

Financial Services Commission Chairman Shin Je-yoon said the financial regulator will wrap up the sale of Woori Financial Group by the end of next year, and it will seek splitting the group into smaller chunks to successfully sell it off.

This is the first time that the top financial regulator under the newly launched Park Geun-hye administration provided a specific time frame for the sale of Woori Financial Group, which is the nation’s largest financial holding company by asset.

“[The financial regulator] needs to choose a new owner for Woori Bank by the end of 2014,” Shin said while hiking with reporters on Saturday in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi. “If we miss this opportunity, it will be more difficult to sell so we will sell a product that the market wants .?.?. We will weigh out our focus on the prompt sale [of Woori]. Our goal is to sell a product that succeeds. If that’s what the market wants, that’s the answer.”

One of the Park administration’s top priorities is the privatization of Woori by selling the government’s 57 percent share.

Park’s predecessor Lee Myung-bak government failed to sell Woori despite three attempts. The Park administration wants the privatization to be done as soon as possible to recoup as much public investment as possible and to contribute to the development of Korea’s financial industry.

In 2001, the government invested 12.8 trillion won ($11.4 billion) to save Woori Financial from going bankrupt in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

In the three previous attempts by the former administration to find a buyer, KB Financial showed interest in the final one but pulled out at the last minute. With regards to the question over whether the FSC may choose selling off the financial group by splitting it into smaller chunks, Shin said it will sell regional banks under Woori Financial Group first based on the principle of choosing the highest bidder.

“We need to consider whether the current financial group structure which was created to inject the public funds [to save the financial institution] is generating synergy,” he said.

After the sale of regional banks, Woori Bank and Woori Financial Group will be combined, and they will put on sale as one product which will have a weight and size loss, he added. This will make Woori Bank and Woori Financial Group a product from which interested parties will feel no financial burden.

Shin, however, left the possibility open that the financial regulator could not only seek the split sale of Woori Financial Group, but he also said it “hasn’t completely abolished the idea yet” of selling the company in full.

By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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