* Seoul judge rules in Samsung chairman's favour in battle
* Family members had sought nearly $4 bln in assets from
Lee, Samsung Everland
* Case exposed family intrigues at S.Korea conglomerates to
* Samsung Life shares end up nearly 3 pct after ruling,
Samsung Elec down 0.5 pct
By Ju-min Park and Daum Kim
SEOUL, Feb 1 Samsung Electronics Co Ltd
Chairman Lee Kun-hee fended off a lawsuit by
estranged family members demanding he hand over billions of
dollars of shares in Samsung companies as a South Korean court
ruled in his favour on Friday.
Lee, 71, and Samsung Everland, a de facto holding company
for the country's largest conglomerate, were defending against
three lawsuits by Lee's relatives seeking nearly $4 billion in
assets in Samsung Life Insurance Co Ltd, which sits
at the heart of the web of Samsung group shareholdings, and
Samsung Electronics, the group's crown jewel.
The lawsuit was unlikely to have deprived Lee of his control
over Samsung Electronics, the world's biggest maker of
smartphones, TVs and memory chips.
But a ruling against him would have diluted his holdings and
could have forced a reshuffling of the intricate shareholdings
across the Samsung group if he were to retain his grip.
It also came at a key juncture for the electronics giant's
successions plans, just months after Lee's son Jay Y. Lee, 44,
was promoted to vice chairman.
Samsung has come to symbolise the success of South Korea's
"chaebol" conglomerates on the global stage, where it is
battling Apple Inc and its Galaxy smartphone is
outselling the iPhone.
A judge at the Seoul Central District Court ruled that Lee
could retain more than $1 billion in Samsung Electronics shares
and another $1 billion in shares of Samsung Life.
Samsung Everland, a small zoo operator, was also allowed to
keep its $1 billion stake in Samsung Life. Lee will remain
Samsung Life's biggest shareholder with a 20.76 percent stake.
The lawsuits accused Lee of hiding from his siblings
billions of dollars in shareholdings inherited from his father,
Samsung's founder, while Lee countered that as his father's
chosen successor, he had free rein to transfer group company
"This is a totally unexpected ruling and we'll decide
whether to appeal after discussing with our clients," Cha
Dong-eon, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told reporters.
Lawyers for Lee, who has been travelling abroad since early
January, said the ruling was reasonable.
Shares in Samsung Life closed nearly 3 percent higher after
the ruling, while Samsung Electronics sagged 0.5 percent.
Seoul's benchmark Kospi fell 0.2 percent.
The trial, which exposed family intrigues behind South
Korea's powerful chaebol, coincides with rising public
resentment towards the conglomerates, stirred by their dominance
in the economy and widening wealth gaps in society.
The ruling comes only a day after Chey Tae-won, chairman of
South Korean chaebol company SK Holdings Co Ltd, was
sent to prison on embezzlement charges, as the country seeks to
level out the playing field between big business groups and the
Lee, South Korea's richest man, was worth an estimated $8.3
billion as of March 2012, according to Forbes Magazine.
He owns less than 4 percent of Samsung Electronics, but
through family stakes in Samsung Everland and Samsung Life he
exercises substantial control over the electronics firm and the
other 80 or so Samsung companies, which operate in industries
from construction to hotels to fashion.
The ownership of hidden assets came into focus in 2011,
after a tax probe into Lee that followed the transfer of shares
from nominee accounts to his own name. He was later indicted on
tax evasion charges but pardoned by South Korean President Lee
South Korea is no stranger to the family feuds that have
engulfed other Asia dynasties such as India's Ambani family.
Hyundai Group, once the biggest of the chaebol, split into two
after a row between two brothers, one side becoming Hyundai
Motor Co and the other Hyundai Group.
Before delivering his verdict, the judge said he wished for
a happy ending to the family dispute.
"Regardless of the truth of what happened or the final
outcome of this case, I think it may also have been one of the
late founder's wishes that both parties have a happy life
together with no quarrels," the judge said.