Samsung Biologics to face criminal probe on accounting fraud

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s top financial regulator said Thursday it had found intentional breaches of accounting rules at Samsung Biologics, the contract drugmaking unit once seen as Samsung’s future growth engine.

The Financial Services Commission said it will bring the case to prosecutors and ask Samsung Biologics to dismiss executives in charge of accounting breaches. It will also penalize an accounting firm that audited Samsung.

The commission said the company failed to notify investors of crucial information related to its joint venture agreement with Biogen, a U.S. biotechnology company.

The missing information affected the valuation of Samsung Biologics and its subsidiary Samsung Bioepis, a joint venture with Biogen. Samsung Biologics switched its valuation of its stake in Samsung Bioepis in 2015, which suddenly made it profitable for the first time in 2015 before its listing in a Seoul stock market a year later. Samsung Biologics cited the agreement with Biogen as the reason for switching its valuation from fair market value to book value.

The commission said Samsung Biologics was aware that leaving out such information could constitute a violation of accounting rules.

“The company clearly violated accounting rules and it was intentional when it did not disclose the information in regulatory filing,” Kim Yongbeom, vice chairman of the Financial Services Commission, told reporters.

However, the watchdog said it could not reach a conclusion in this round of review on whether Samsung also violated accounting rules when it switched to valuing its share in Samsung Bioepis at fair market value instead of book value in 2015.

The initial public offering of Samsung Biologics in 2016 has been a source of controversy because its operation was in heavy losses but the company was able to say that it booked a 1.9 trillion won ($1.7 billion) of annual net profit based on the forecast of Samsung Bioepis’ future profit.

Samsung Biologics said it regrets the finding by the regulator and reiterated that it had not breached accounting rules. It said it will seek every possible legal measure to protect investors and other stakeholders.

The stake is high because the value of Samsung Bioepis and Samsung Biologics are at the heart of the controversy over the highly contentious merger between two Samsung companies in 2015.

When shareholders at Samsung C&T opposed the merger with Cheil Industries, arguing that the merger was unfair and favored Cheil shareholders including the Samsung founding family, Samsung justified the merger ratio citing the high potential of Cheil’s stake in Samsung Biologics.

Samsung invested big in the biologics business to find a future cash cow when profit from its existing businesses dwindles.

Samsung C&T controls a 43.4 percent stake in Samsung Biologics and Samsung Electronics controls a 31.5 percent stake in the company. Lee Jae-yong, Samsung Electronics vice chairman and the only son of Samsung chair, is the biggest shareholder in Samsung C&T with a 17.1 percent stake.

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