Thu, Oct 19, 2006 - Page 12 News List

NewsMaker: Jeffrey Koo Jr, the `handsome banker' who jeopardized the family business

By Amber Chung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Dressed in an expensive, dark blue suit with matching blue-silver striped tie, banking magnate Jeffrey Koo (辜濂松) tried his best to look poised at the Third Wednesday Club's monthly lunch after rushing back from Japan yesterday morning.

However, 73-year old Koo -- who chairs Chinatrust Financial Holding Co (中信金控) -- did not eat much and seemed to be in deep thought.

After all, Koo and his family business are in a shaky situation, potentially facing their biggest crisis since he founded the Chinatrust Group some 40 years ago.

Prosecutors raided the company yesterday after detaining Chinatrust Financial's former chief financial officer Perry Chang (張明田) before dawn on Tuesday while intensifying their investigations into the company's disputed takeover bid for larger rival Mega Financial Holding Co (兆豐金控).

His eldest son, Jeffrey Koo Jr (辜仲諒), vice chairman of Chinatrust Financial, is now one of the defendants, and is under suspicion of masterminding the alleged illegitimate investment process.

Admitting that he was shocked and worried, Koo said he believed they had performed genuine transactions and the justice system would prove their innocence.

"My return shows my confidence in the bank and our intention to fully cooperate with the investigation," he said.

Koo returned to Taiwan, hoping to stabilize the situation and boost staff morale.

"Unity and faith have been the major principles of our 40-year history. People who work for us have belief in Chinatrust and such a culture will not change," he said.

Koo is part of the third generation of the Koo family, one of the wealthiest families in the country.

The banking tycoon, who has extensive contacts in both the business and political world, used to be a Central Standing Committee member of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) when it was in power.

Under Koo's leadership, Chinatrust group transformed into Chinatrust Financial in 2002, Taiwan's seventh-largest financial group managing NT$1.62 trillion in assets.

Good at marketing, its flagship unit Chinatrust Commercial Bank (中國信託商銀) developed into Taiwan's largest credit card issuer with 6.3 million cards in circulation and has the most overseas outlets of any bank in the country.

But this is not enough for Chinatrust if it wants to survive and grow into a regional player.

As Koo Jr began to take over at the helm of the company, he made a bold attempt to acquire the state-controlled Mega Financial, as part of the government's plans to promote banking consolidation and halve the number of financial holding firms to seven.

Koo Jr, 42, dubbed "the most handsome banker in Taiwan," is one of the nation's highest-profile figures. With an MBA degree from Pennsylvania University's Wharton School, Koo Jr takes himself seriously, hoping to match his father's achievements.

To sharpen its competitiveness against foreign rivals, Koo Jr recruited former Citibank Taiwan's head Eric Chen (陳聖德) to head the bank in 2003, but Chen left Chinatrust last year reportedly because of a conflict of culture in the family-controlled company.

Yet Koo Jr may never achieve his lofty ambitions now that his controversial takeover bid for Mega Financial could see him end up behind bars.

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