SK Group chairman's wife brings divorce case to appeals court, demands greater property division

By Lim Chang-won Posted : December 19, 2022, 15:39 Updated : December 19, 2022, 15:39

[Yonhap News Photo]

SEOUL -- The estranged wife of Chey Tae-won, a business tycoon who controls South Korea's third-largest conglomerate SK Group, challenged a court ruling that excluded Chey's stocks from the division of property and refused to recognize her role in the formation, maintenance, and value increase of business property. The high-profile divorce suit would go to a court of appeal.

Chey's 61-year-old wife, Roh Soh-yeong, submitted a petition of appeal through her lawyers, citing a new trend of judicial precedents that broadly recognizes the contribution of domestic labor by housewives. She wants some 50 percent of shares held by Chey in a flagship company of his group, among other things.  

A family court in Seoul accepted the separation of Chey and his wife on December 6, seven years after the 62-year-old revealed his extramarital love affair and the existence of a child out of wedlock. The ostensible reason for the breakdown of their 34-year-old relationship was differences in personality. 

The court ruled that Chey should pay a symbolic amount of 100 million won ($76,798) in alimony and 66.5 billion won in the division of property. The court ordered the division of property in cash, regarding Chey's shares as "unique assets" that should not be included in the division of property. In South Korea's civil law, property acquired by either party of the couple through inheritance or donation is defined as unique property, which is not included in the subject of division. 

The court backed Chey's argument that shares inherited from his late father should not be subject to property division, saying that marital disputes such as divorce should not have an excessive impact on stakeholders and management. At first, the wife demanded that Chey pay 42.29 percent of his stake in SK Corp., but she later hiked her claim to 50 percent.

Chey holds a 17.5 percent stake in SK Corp., which has been split into SK energy and SK Holdings, a holding company with stakes in various group units. SK Holdings changed its name to SK Inc. in 2021. His wife insisted that her housework had contributed to raising the value of Chey's shares because they were purchased during their marital life.

Chey's wife is the daughter of South Korea's late ex-president Roh Tae-woo, a former army general who joined a 1979 coup led by his military colleague and predecessor, Chun Doo-hwan. The two ex-presidents were convicted in 1996 of mutiny, treason and corruption for their roles in the coup and the bloody military crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising in the southern city of Gwangju in 1980. Both were released from prison in December 1997 on a presidential pardon.

Chey and his wife had a wedding ceremony at the presidential residence in 1988, the first year of Roh Tae-woo's five-year term. Chey filed a request with a Seoul court seeking a divorce settlement with his wife in 2017, two years after he admitted in a letter published by a local magazine that he had maintained an extramarital relationship. 

Initially, Chey's wife had refused to accept a divorce, but she changed her mind and launched a legal battle for the division of assets in December 2019. At that time, she said in a Facebook post that she would not put up with a "hard and humiliating" time any longer to keep a family. She gained her master's degree in education from Stanford University in California before returning to South Korea for graduate study in Media Communication at Yonsei University in Seoul. As the founder and director of Art Center Nabi, a contemporary art gallery in Seoul, she has organized various exhibitions and cultural projects.
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