By Joyce Lee and Se Young Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's Samsung Group said on Wednesday it is selling stakes in four chemical and defense firms for 1.9 trillion won($1.72 billion) to Hanwha Group, the latest move in the massive task of restructuring the country's largest conglomerate.
Samsung Group is reorganizing its business empire as the children of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd <005930.KS> chairman and patriarch Lee Kun-hee, 72, who has been hospitalized since May following a heart attack, prepare to take over the family enterprise.
The process has already seen the initial public offering of Samsung SDS Co <018260.KS> and the upcoming listing of de facto holding company Cheil Industries Inc, as well as acquisitions of stakes between Samsung units, setting the stage for the younger Lees to divvy up the conglomerate and pay an estimated inheritance tax bill of up to 6 trillion won.
In the latest shakeout, affiliates including Samsung Electronics Co Ltd <005930.KS> will sell a 32.4 percent stake in defense firm Samsung Techwin Co Ltd <012450.KS> to Hanwha Corp <000880.KS> for 840 billion won, the group said in a statement.
They will also sell a 57.6 percent stake in Samsung General Chemicals Co Ltd to Hanwha Chemical Corp <009830.KS> and Hanwha Energy Corp [YCOGN.UL] for 1.06 trillion won, it added.
Samsung's portion of Samsung Thales Co Ltd, a joint venture unit with French defense electronics firm Thales <TCFP.PA>, and Samsung Total Petrochemicals Co Ltd, a joint venture unit with France's Total SA <TOTF.PA>, also would be transferred to Hanwha firms.
While the group did not elaborate on the reason for the sales, Samsung Electronics said in separate regulatory filings that it would use the 761 billion won it raised from the deals to invest in new businesses.
Some analysts say the elder Lee's illness may have accelerated preparations by heir apparent Jay Y. Lee and his two sisters to ensure a smooth transfer.
The four companies being sold down in the latest moves could aid the further restructuring of the conglomerate's various assets even though they are not seen as central to the succession process, and the younger Lees will see little direct financial benefit, analysts said.
Hanwha Group, South Korea's 10th-largest conglomerate, said in a separate statement the acquisitions would boost its petrochemicals and defense-related businesses.
(Editing by Stephen Coates)