Reuters Seoul

A feud at South Korea’s giant Samsung Group over the family fortune has spilled from the courts into an ancestral rite to commemorate the group’s deceased founder, a traditional Korean ceremony where family attendance is mandatory.

Descendants of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chull, including Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee, are holding separate memorial services for the first time in 25 years, South Korea’s CJ Group said yesterday.

The two branches of the Lee family, South Korea’s richest business dynasty, are engaged in a bitter legal battle over billions of dollars worth of shares in Samsung group companies and traded barbs.

Lee Kun-hee was worth an estimated $8.3 billion (R72.8bn), according to Forbes Magazine, as of March next year.

Kun-hee’s brother, Lee Maeng-hee has dubbed his sibling “greedy” and “childish”, while Lee Kun-hee has shot back saying that his accuser was “kicked” out of the family and that he had not observed the family rites.

CJ Group said in a statement that the Samsung Hoam Foundation, which oversees the event, informed CJ Group chairman Lee Jay-hyun’s secretary that he and his immediate family “will not be able to use the front door” to the burial site when paying their respects.

“Samsung’s notification to ‘come and go by the back door’ is tantamount to blocking the normal ancestral rites of other siblings and their descendants,” CJ Group said.

CJ Group chairman Lee Jay-hyun is the son of Maeng-hee who is suing over the ownership of shares in Samsung Electronics, which makes the world’s best-selling smartphone, and Samsung Life, an insurance company at the heart of the sprawling Samsung Group business empire.

The Lee family usually gathers at the November 19 ceremony.

South Koreans traditionally gather to offer specially-prepared food and to bow before the ancestor’s burial mound on anniversary days.

Samsung Group in a statement said that the feuding family groups would be holding separate memorial services, but said the path it had asked to be used was the one used every year by Samsung Group leaders coming to pay their respects.