Woori Finance-shareholder meeting

SEOUL, March 22 (Yonhap) -- Woori Finance Holdings Co., the country's largest lender by assets, will continue to push ahead with its privatization plan this year to bolster its market presence, the company head said Friday.

"Following the launch of the new government, Woori Finance will continue to make privatization efforts to become the world's 50th and Asia's 10th largest financial group," Chairman Lee Pal-seung told an annual shareholder meeting.

The government injected 12.8 trillion won (US$11.4 billion) of taxpayers' money into Woori Finance to rescue the company from near bankruptcy during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

South Korea has since sought to sell its 56.97 percent stake in Woori Finance to recoup the public funds, though its previous efforts fell through in recent years due to a lack of investor interest.

The sale of Woori Finance was one of the top priorities pushed by the administration of former President Lee Myung-bak as part of its broader plan to privatize financial institutions in a bid to enhance competitiveness.

The shareholders of Woori Finance also reappointed four outside directors with a one-year tenure, and appointed two additional outside directors with a two-year tenure.

Meanwhile, the firm decided to pay out 201.5 billion won in dividends to shareholders this year, which is similar to last year's amount.

Net profit for fiscal year 2012 came to 1.5 trillion won, down 553.2 billion won from a year earlier, while the firm's combined assets increased 15.7 trillion won to reach 410.5 trillion won.

Lee added the firm will also support the marketing of a new card affiliate, Woori Card, which is scheduled to be launched in April, to bolster its sales.

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