South Korea’s richest and most powerful industrialist Lee Kun-hee, who made the Samsung empire one of the world’s premier tech groups, was laid to rest on Wednesday, three days after his death Sunday in 78 years old.
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Under the chairmanship of Mr. Lee, who had been bedridden since a heart attack six years ago, Samsung Electronics, the flagship of the group, has become the world’s leading manufacturer of smartphones and memory chips.
The group’s turnover today weighs one fifth of South Korea’s GDP. Samsung is by far the largest of the family conglomerates (“chaebols”) that dominate the world’s 12th largest economy.
Mr. Lee’s son, Lee Jae-yong, vice president of Samsung Electronics and de facto leader of the group for several years, and several large South Korean bosses were gathered Wednesday at the Samsung Medical Center where the remains of the patriarch.
Among those in attendance were Mr Lee’s sister Lee Myung-hee, who chairs South Korean retail giant Shinsegae, and his nephew Lee Jae-hyun, CEO of conglomerate CJ Group, according to media reports, likewise. as the chairman of the Hyundai Motor group, Chung Euisun.
“I have traveled a lot in the world, but I have never seen men like him who have done even better than their father,” said a childhood friend of the deceased at the funeral, according to the press.
Shortly after, a hearse carrying the coffin appeared in front of the hundreds of journalists present. “May the soul of the deceased rest in peace” read a message on an LED screen on the vehicle.
In a bus following the hearse, was notably the daughter of Mr. Lee, Lee Boo-jin, general manager of the hotel group Hotel Shilla.
The funeral procession notably passed in front of Mr. Lee’s Seoul home and office, in front of the huge Samsung Electronics chip factories in Hwaseong, south of the capital, where employees were waiting for him carrying chrysanthemums.
“Your traces will remain forever,” read a banner at an entrance to the factory, according to the South Korean agency Yonhap, while workers were in tears.
All Samsung flags were at half mast on the group’s buildings.
Mr. Lee was buried in a family vault in Suwon, south of the capital, where the deceased’s grandparents lie.
The “chaebols” helped revive the South Korean economy, which was devastated after the Korean War (1950-1953) and is now one of the heavyweights on the world stage. But these groups have also long been accused of having troubled connections with power and of stifling all competition.
Lee Kun-hee himself has been convicted twice, including one for bribing a president, from which he was later pardoned.
Her son and heir Lee Jae-yong is currently being tried again in the framework of the gigantic corruption scandal that led to the dismissal of former President Park Geun-hye.