|Rhone Group senior adviser John Bolton, right, shakes hands with NongHyup Cooperative Bank President So Seong-mo, left, at the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (NACF) headquarters in Seoul, Monday. From left are So, NongHyup Cooperative Bank CIO Park Hak-joo, Rhone Group co-founder Robert Agostinelli and Bolton. / Courtesy of NACF|
By Park Jae-hyuk
Questions have arisen from capital market observers as former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton revisited Korea this week in the capacity of the Rhone Group senior adviser and met with institutional investors here.
According to industry officials, Tuesday, Bolton visited Atinum Partners, the Korea Scientists & Engineers Mutual-aid Association, the Military Mutual Aid Association, NongHyup Cooperative Bank, the Public Officials Benefit Association, the Korea Investment Corporation and KB Insurance.
Bolton met with some of them in October 2019, when he visited Korea as the U.S. private equity firm's (PEF) senior adviser.
The series of meetings were reportedly intended to attract investments in Rhone's sixth buyout fund worth 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion).
Apparently, Rhone did not care about media coverage of its meeting with Korean institutions.
Some institutional investors even issued press releases with photos after their meetings with the former White House aide.
It is usual for most PEFs worldwide to conceal their relations with potential investors.
PEFs also tend to keep their itineraries secret.
When Vietnamese PEF Mekong Capital's CEO Chris Freund visited Korea in September 2019 to meet with limited partners here, his company was not only cautious about revealing the list of the limited partners but also with disclosing the purpose of his trip.
"It is unusual, but it can be possible," a domestic PEF executive, who requested anonymity, commented on Bolton's behavior in Korea.
|Rhone Group co-founder Robert Agostinelli, left, and senior adviser John Bolton, second from left, pose with Military Mutual Aid Association (MMAA) CEO Kim Do-ho, center, and other MMAA executives at the association's headquarters in Seoul, Monday. / Courtesy of MMAA|
Market observers say Bolton's latest trip showed the foreign midcap buyout firm has been anxious to utilize Korea's liquidity for its fundraising.
Foreign news outlets have described Rhone as "low-profile," because the size of its entire assets under management falls far short of the size of a single buyout fund managed by global PEFs.
Rhone managed assets worth 5 billion euros ($5.5 billion) as of the first half of 2019.
The fact that Bolton's visit was made amid the spread of coronavirus across East Asia is also mentioned as evidence of Rhone's desperation.
After the virus outbreak, financial firms have canceled their investor roadshows overseas and foreign investors have become reluctant to visit Korea and other East Asian countries.
Shinhan Financial Group canceled its investor roadshow which was supposed to take place in Hong Kong this week.
Local PEFs are facing difficulties convincing foreign investors to visit Korea, because most investors come to Korea before or after going on a tour of China, the world's second-largest economy.
Bolton, however, braved this unfavorable situation.
Perhaps, he may have literally "risked his life" to make money for Rhone.