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US private equity fund wins Pyrrhic victory over Seoul

SEOUL – A 10-year arbitration battle wrapped up on August 30 with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) awarding American private equity fund Lone Star US$217 million in damages from the South Korean government.

The case was sparked by what the Dallas-based fund alleged was Seoul’s refusal to permit the sale of a distressed asset it had acquired within a reasonable time frame, robbing it of billions of dollars worth of profits. Lone Star opened proceedings at the ICSID in 2012.

However, this dry description does not do the investor-state dispute, which took place in the tumultuous wake of the 1997-8 Asian financial crisis, justice.

The highly emotive struggle saw unionists wielding machetes, secret cameras embedded in C suites, fund chairmen being grilled in court and questions being asked behind closed doors in Washington’s corridors of power.