National Museum of Korea

Lee Kun-Hee passed away in 2020, as the wealthiest person in South Korea. Third son of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul and long-time chairman of the Samsung Group, he made Samsung into one of the forerunners of smartphone manufacture and digital technology. At the time of his death, he was worth an estimated 23 trillion won (21 billion USD).

Lee’s heirs, which includes his widow and three adult children, will inherit, but due to South Korean laws expect to pay over half of that number in inheritance taxes. It will be the largest sum ever paid in inheritance tax in South Korea and possibly in the world. The estimated 12 trillion won (10.8 billion USD) tax bill will be more than three times what South Korea takes in estate taxes in any given year.

In an effort to reduce the amount slightly, the heirs of Lee Kun-Hee intend to donate over 23,000 art pieces from Lee’s personal collection. The collection is wide-ranging, including ancient Korean paintings and artifacts considered national treasures, modern Korean art, and works by European masters. The works will be donated to two state-run museums. The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art will receive 1,488 pieces, their largest-ever private donation, including paintings by Salvador Dali and Claude Monet. The National Museum of Korea will receive the bulk of the collection, approximately 21,000 paintings, ceramics, and sculptures.

Hwang Hee, the culture minister for South Korea, has expressed deep gratitude for the family’s immense donation, and said that some of the donated art will be on public display as early as June. He was asked if the donations will help influence a pardon for Lee Kun-Hee’s oldest son, currently in prison for bribery and other financial crimes, but declined to answer.

In addition to the art, the Lee family will also donate approximately $1 billion to fund infectious disease research and support children’s hospitals in South Korea.

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