Legal hurdle cleared for Hana vice chief to seek chairmanship

Hana Financial Group Vice Chairman Ham Young-joo has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the flagship bank’s hiring scandal, removing a major hurdle for him to take the reins of one of the biggest financial groups here.

On Friday, the Seoul Western District Court found Ham not guilty of exercising his influence on a hiring request at Hana Bank when he was the CEO of the lender in 2015.

The latest court decision puts an end to a four-year trial that kicked off in June 2018 when the prosecution indicted Ham among 38 officials from Korean commercial and provincial banks on allegations of exerting inappropriate influence on entry-level employment.

Industry watchers said Friday’s court decision has cleared most of the air for Ham, who was nominated as the group’s next chairman in February, after previously expressing concerns over “legal risks.”

Ham is currently mired in another court battle with the watchdog Financial Supervisory Service for his involvement in Hana Bank’s misselling of derivatives-linked products mostly sold in 2019. But industry insiders expect the court to side with the chairman nominee on that case as well.

The watchdog appealed the Seoul Administrative Court’s decision in August that ruled in favor of Ham over the same misselling allegations. A hearing for sentencing in the case is scheduled for Monday.

With the legal risks largely dissipated, Ham is set to confirm his three-year term as Hana chairman at the upcoming shareholders meeting on March 25.

“I apologize for the inconvenience caused by the trial and would like to express deep gratitude for the court that has made a decision based on solid evidence,” Ham told reporters after the court hearing.

“I plan to make efforts to bolster customer protection and provide a detailed briefing on today’s court decision to our shareholders,” he added.

Ham, born in 1956 in rural South Chungcheong Province, is well-known within and outside Hana as someone who climbed his way from the bottom of the ladder to the top of the country’s exclusive circle of banking elites.

He entered Seoul Bank — a predecessor of Hana Bank — in 1980 as a teller after only graduating high school.

Hoping to receive a college education, Ham enrolled in night courses as an accounting major at the College of Business & Economics at Dankook University in Seoul, and graduated in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree.

Ham became CEO of Hana Bank in 2015, after the bank’s acquisition of Korea Exchange Bank by US private equity Lone Star was finalized in 2015. He later stepped down as CEO of the commercial lender in 2019, after successfully merging the systems of the two separate banks.

From 2016, he took on double duty as vice chairman of the bank’s holding entity Hana Financial Group, mapping out the business strategy of the firm.

For seven years after Hana’s merger with the KEB, the financial giant‘s assets surged 60 percent to 653.4 trillion won ($528.1 billion) as of December last year. Hana Financial Group’s 2021 net profit gained 33.7 percent on-year to 3.53 trillion won. Operating income for the year was 4.63 trillion won, up 20.7 percent on-year, the company said in a regulatory filing.

Diversifying its profit portfolio was a key strategy for Hana that led the group to expand its investment in alternative investments and global businesses. By 2025, the group aims to generate 30 percent of its profit from the nonbanking sector and 40 percent from its global business.

Its diversification strategy, spearheaded by Ham, has seen noticeable progress, according to the group.

Hana’s investment arm, Hana Financial Investment has become a mega investment bank with holdings of more than 5 trillion won of its own capital last year.

Profits from global businesses also jumped 140 percent from 282.3 billion won in 2015 to 687.2 billion won last year, through its 212 networks in 24 countries around the world.

Hana holds a 15 percent stake in the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam, the largest lender in the Southeast Asian country by asset.

By investing 1 trillion won in BIDV, Hana has become the second-largest stakeholder and a strategic investor. The value of BIDV shares surged 64.5 percent as of Jan. 13 from the time Hana acquired the shares in 2019, the group’s report showed.

Hana’s investment in an online bank in Indonesia is also drawing attention. In collaboration with global mobile platform Line, Hana launched Line Bank by Hana Bank in Indonesia in June. In less than six months, the number of subscriptions surpassed 300,000, far higher than its initial target of 200,000.

By Jung Min-kyung (

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