The Heirs of Late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-Hee Will Give 23,000 Works of Art to Korean Museums to Polish Their Tarnished Image

The family's art collection is worth a reported $2.7 billion.

Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-Hee. Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images.
Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-Hee. Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images.

The family of late Samsung chairman and art collector Lee Kun-Hee, who died last October, will pay an $11 billion inheritance tax bill on his $20 billion fortune.

South Korea, which charges up to 60 percent in inheritance taxes—one of the steepest in the world—gave the family six months to decide how to pay the bill upon his death.

In addition to paying the tax, the family will voluntarily donate over 23,000 artworks to state museums in an apparent effort to polish its image, which was tarnished when reports indicated in March that it was considering selling off the art to foot the bill. The son of Lee, Lee Jae-yong, is chairman of Samsung and serving a prison sentence for a conviction of bribery and embezzlement.

Among the family’s holdings are examples by Pablo Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Marc Chagall, and Andy Warhol.

Alberto Giacometti’s 1960 sculpture Tall Woman III is estimated to be worth around $140 million alone, and a Francis Bacon painting, Figure in a Room from 1962, is valued at $133 million, according to the Korea Economic Daily. The collection is worth a reported $2.7 billion in total.

South Korean artists including Park Soo-Keun, Lee Jung-Seop, and Kim Whan-Ki, plus Korean antiques, are also represented.

According to South Korean news reports, works by Monet, Chagall, and Picasso will be given to the National Museum of South Korea and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Works by Giacometti and Rothko will remain in the family’s possession, and the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art has also inherited parts of Lee’s collection.

The family said it would pay the full bill through multiple instalments. In an apparent snipe, it said in a statement that the total bill was “equivalent to three to four times the government’s total estate tax revenue last year.”

Last month, former ministers of culture and arts organizations called for tax reforms that would stop the heirs from paying the tax by selling off the collection, which activists feared would be sent overseas.

Lee’s family will also donate $900 million to charities and help fund the creation of a specialized infectious disease lab. It is unclear at this time whether the family will need to Samsung stocks, which could alter the family’s controlling stake in the company, to pay for everything.


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