Business

Elder brother of Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee dies at 84

Lee Tae-hoon
Written by Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Maeng-hee, the elder brother of South Korea’s Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee, died on Friday at the age of 84 after a years-long battle with cancer.

The elder Lee, also the father of CJ Group Chairman Lee Jay-hyun, passed away at a hospital in Beijing where he was being treated for lung cancer that had spread to other parts of his body, said a CJ group official.

The elder Lee “passed away from a chronic disease at a hospital in Beijing as of 9:39 a.m. (Beijing time),” the CJ official said.

Another CJ official in Beijing said no funeral date has been set yet.

CJ Group added that his body is likely to be moved to South Korea, which is estimated to take around a week.

Samsung Group founder Lee Byung-chull had three sons, including Maeng-hee and Kun-hee, and five daughters.

Maeng-hee had once been designated the heir of Samsung Group in the early 1960s, but he fell out of favor with the Samsung founder after a fertilizer subsidiary of Samsung smuggled 56 tons of chemicals from Japan in 1966.
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This photo, released on Aug. 14, 2015, by CJ Group, shows Lee Maeng-hee, the elder brother of South Korea’s Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who died at the age of 84. The elder Lee, also the father of South Korea’s CJ Group Chairman Lee Jae-hyun, passed away at a hospital in Beijing where he was being treated for the disease that had spread to other parts of his body, the group said. (Yonhap)

Sources said the founder originally intended to have Maeng-hee control the conglomerate while allowing Kun-hee to head Tongyang Broadcast Company, a media firm under Samsung’s arm. Accordingly, Maeng-hee took top-level positions in various Samsung arms, including Samsung C&T Co. and Samsung Electronics Co. in the 1960s.

But after the smuggling incident, it was reported that Maeng-hee lost the trust of his father, which led Byung-chull to re-write his will, naming as Kun-hee as the new leader to take over Samsung Group. The founder died in 1987.

Maeng-hee underwent lung cancer surgery in Japan in 2012, and had been staying in China to recover, sources said. Kun-hee also has been hospitalized at Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul since May last year after suffering a heart attack.

While he had surgery to remove a third of his lung, the cancer spread to other parts of his body in the following year, driving him to receive radiation treatment in China and Japan.

The two had been involved in several legal disputes until Maeng-hee said he would not appeal a court decision that rejected his demand for a a 940 billion won (US$800 million) share of his sibling’s inherited wealth.

The two never reconciled their relationship before Maeng-hee’s death.

But there were also some signs of normalizations, especially when Kun-hee’s wife Hong Ra-hee and their son Jae-yong wrote a petition to a South Korean court in favor of Lee Jay-hyun in August 2014.

In July this year, South Korea’s Supreme Court again decided to suspend the confinement of Jay-hyun, who was found guilty of various corruption charges, citing his poor health.

 

About the author

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon is publisher at The Korea Observer. He previously worked for the Korea Times and Arirang TV. You can reach him at lee@koreaobserver.com.

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