Naver co-founder reduces stake in company

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Naver co-founder reduces stake in company

Naver co-founder Lee Hae-jin sold 150.7 billion won ($142 million) of shares in the company on Wednesday, reducing his stake from 4.31 percent to 3.72 percent.

Lee, who is now global investment officer at the top portal site, sold 195,000 shares in an off-hour trade for 772,644 won per share. Naver closed at 803,000 won Wednesday.

According to Naver, Lee “sold shares for personal reasons,” but his diminished stake indicates that he is determined to show that his control over the company has dwindled.

The move comes nearly half a year after Lee sold a 0.33 percent stake, or 110,000 shares, in August 2017. On Monday, he decided to relinquish his seat on the board of directors of the company as of March 19.

Lee stood down as head of the board last year, handing the position over to Humax Holdings chairman and founder Byun Dae-gyu.

Lee has been taking a series of steps to counter the Fair Trade Commission’s move to designate Naver as “quasi-chaebol.” The designation was made by the antitrust agency last year and Lee was labeled as the essential owner.

The Fair Trade Commission said Lee was the largest individual shareholder with 4.31 percent share of the company, and had exercised governance.

Companies in the quasi-chaebol group are subject to various limitations and obligations including making their business transactions more transparent.

The owners of the companies take on legal responsibility for the business in the case of mismanagement. If the company gives favors to other companies operated by the owners’ relatives, they will be tightly monitored as well.

Lee used to be the fourth-largest shareholder in the Seongnam, Gyeonggi-based tech company after the National Pension Service, which owns 10.6 percent, Aberdeen Asset Management, at 5.04 percent, and BlackRock Fund Advisors, at 5.03 percent.

Lee’s relatively small stake in the company reflects his intention to maintain a governance structure that separates ownership and management.

The FTC is scheduled to announce the list of chaebol owners it is re-designating on May 1 and attention is gathering on whether the antitrust agency will change its stance on Naver.


BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]

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