[THE INVESTOR] The illusive Seo Mi-kyung who appeared in court for the Lotte Group trial on March 20 is a force to reckon in the owner family’s power struggle.
Seo met Lotte founder Shin Kyuk-ho in the 1970s when she was working as an actress after winning the Miss Lotte beauty pageant in 1977. Since meeting him, she has stayed out of the public eye, with very little information other than the fact that she lives in Japan and has a daughter by Shin.
Seo Mi-kyung, former beauty queen, appears at a prosecutors' office in Seoul on March 20.
Since then she has come upon a massive fortune, including significant stake in Lotte Holdings, the linchpin in the group’s shareholding structure.
Together with her daughter Shin Yu-mi, Seo has the largest stake in Lotte Holdings -- control of which was the prize of Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin and his brother Shin Dong-joo’s highly publicized feud -- outstripping other members of the Shin family.
Seo and her daughter old 6.8 percent stake in Lotte Holdings, far higher than Shin and both his sons. Shin holds 0.4 percent, while Dong-joo and Dong-bin have 1.6 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively.
In addition to the fortune that the stake represents -- 750 billion won (US$669.31 million), based on claims of Dong-joo -- Lotte Holdings is the largest shareholder of Hotel Lotte, which is the de facto holdings company for the group’s Korean operations. Ahead of Lotte Holdings’ shareholders meeting last year, Dong-joo stated that Lotte Holdings would be worth roughly 11 trillion won should the company go public.
Seo’s Lotte Holdings stake is thought to have been transferred from Shin, and she is accused of evading about 30 billion won in taxes.
Seo is also accused of generating profits of 77 billion won from the illegal operations of confectionary stands at Lotte’s movie theaters.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)