Woori desperate to find buyers

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Woori desperate to find buyers

The government’s plan to privatize Woori Bank is at serious risk of failing as the deal has not attracted majority or minority investors.

According to the Financial Services Commission’s (FSC) Public Funds Oversight Committee on Thursday, only a stake of about 6 percent has been sold since the bidding closed on Nov. 28.

Of the total minority stake of 23.76 percent up for grabs, 5.94 percent was sold for a total of 453.1 billion won, a higher price than the committee had set.

With a 50 percent call option of the sold stake added on, a total stake of about 9 percent was sold. The committee plans to sign a contract to finalize the sale next week.

The FSC is trying to sell a 30 percent management stake in the bank through an open bidding process, while another 26.97 percent will be available for minority investors.

Korea Deposit Insurance Corporation, the largest stakeholder in Woori Bank, owns a 56.97 percent stake.

The fourth attempt to sell the management stake on Nov. 28 was unsuccessful, as only one company participated in the auction, failing to satisfy the open competition policy, which requires at least two bidders.

The committee opened preliminary bidding in September for the 30 percent managerial stake in Woori Bank in order to privatize the institution.

When the bidding closed, however, China’s Anbang Property and Casualty Insurance was the only bidder.

Woori Bank President Lee Soon-woo stepped down on Dec. 1, after the bank failed to find a buyer.

The FSC will now push to sell the remaining 48.06 percent stake in the bank.

After the failed attempts, the regulator is under fire for failing to read the market sentiment and pricing the bank too high.

Meanwhile, three nominees for the next president and CEO of Woori Bank were chosen on Thursday and will be interviewed on Friday.

The three are Kim Seung-gyu, a current executive vice president, Kim Yang-jin, former senior vice president and Lee Kwang-goo, another current executive vice president.

The bank’s president recommendation committee will select one successful candidate on Friday and put it to a vote at a temporary board meeting on Tuesday.

When Lee was selected as a nominee, there was speculation that he is the most likely to succeed because he attended Sogang University, the same school as President Park Geun-hye.

Since the Park administration was inaugurated, a new clan called “Seogeumhoe” was formed, referring to graduates of Sogang University who are working in finance. Lee is rumored to be one of the members.

Some say it is understandable that the government would get involved in the appointment of the next CEO to Woori Bank because it is officially a public institution owned by the KDIC. However, critics say government influence has become too broad.

“There has always been influence of the government in appointments of heads of financial institutions,” said an executive at a public corporation. “The old practice is being executed more blatantly and more widely in the financial industry.”

BY SONG SU-HYUN [ssh@joongang.co.kr]

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