May 17, 2017 / 8:36 AM / 3 months ago

South Korea taps chaebol reform activist as antitrust chief

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's new president on Wednesday nominated as top antitrust regulator a corporate reform activist who said he aims to "re-establish fairness and order" in the country's markets.

Kim Sang-jo, nicknamed "chaebol sniper" for his shareholder activist campaigns against the top family-run conglomerates, was considered a key architect of proposed reform policies for big businesses that Moon Jae-in outlined during his successful campaign to be elected president.

The proposed steps are aimed at further curbing the powers of the country's biggest conglomerates.

The 54-year-old Kim will face questions at a parliamentary hearing but does not need lawmakers' approval to become chairman of the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC).

"If I become the chairman I will re-establish fairness and order in the South Korean markets," Kim told reporters after his nomination was announced. "I will work to the best of my abilities to revitalize the country's economy."

During his campaign, Moon pledged to reform chaebols which dominate the Asia's fourth-biggest economy in the wake of a graft scandal that led to the ouster of his predecessor, Park Geun-hye, as well as the arrest and indictment of Samsung Group [SAGR.UL] chief Jay Y. Lee. Both Park and Lee have denied wrongdoing.

Moon vowed to strengthen the KFTC by beefing up investigation of conglomerates, cracking down on unfair deals between chaebols and small and medium-sized companies and the funneling of contracts and orders to affiliates of chaebols.

The new South Korean president also aims to improve corporate governance and has pledged to give more power to minority and institutional shareholders. Such measures could help investors block founding families of conglomerates from forcing through moves putting their interests above others.

But some analysts say Moon's proposals are modest and may not be enough to bring fundamental changes to the complex ownership structure of chaebols.

Reporting by Se Young Lee, Hyunjoo Jin, Ju-min Park and Christine Kim; Editing by Richard Borsuk

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