Owner of Seoul’s Gallery Seomi Arrested

Hong Song-won allegedly sold artworks about to be seized by police.

The legal troubles of gallerist Hong Song-won are far from over. The controversial owner of Seoul’s Gallery Seomi has been arrested over suspicions that she sold artworks ordered to be seized by a Seoul court, Korea Times reports.

Last April, a Seoul court ordered the confiscation of 330 works owned by Tongyang Group chairman Hyun Jae-hyun and his wife Lee Hae-kyung, as part of a ruling on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion. Prosecutors say that Lee asked Hong to dispose of their property to evade the court ruling, and that Hong sold up to 10 pieces from the soon-to-be confiscated lot between December 2013 and  March 2014. Hong has also been accused of keeping the $1.45 million proceeds.

The prosecution found evidence linking the artworks to Hong last June, when they raided a storage unit belonging to Lee, which contained dozens of paintings and sculptures. The list of works Hong allegedly sold includes pieces by Nam June Paik and Claes Oldenburg. The buyers of these works, however, remain unknown.

Last year, Hong was investigated over suspicion of assisting CJ Group chairman Lee Jae-hyun by forging papers to inflate the selling price of artworks. Lee and his family are thought to have purchased a total of 138 paintings, collectively worth $136 million, through Gallery Seomi between 2001 and 2008. Among the items are important pieces by artists including Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, according to the Korea Times.

Money Laundering

These are hardly Hong’s first brushes with the law. In the last few years, the gallerist has earned a reputation as the secret hand laundering money from the slush funds of several South Korean conglomerates’ owners.

Hong first hit the headlines in 2008, when Hong Ra-hee, the director of the Leeum Samsung Museum of Artand wife of Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-Heewas accused of purchasing Roy Lichtenstein‘s painting Happy Tears (1967) and other pieces through Gallery Seomi using money from a slush fund.

Three years later, Hong filed a lawsuit against the Samsung Foundation of Culture. The dealer accused the foundation of paying just $23 million of an outstanding $75 million bill, related to 14 works of art purchased between August 2009 and February 2010. She later dropped the case, arguing that “the misunderstanding had been straightened out.”

The list goes on. In October 2011, Hong was given a suspended two-and-half-year jail term for aiding the chairman of the company Orion Group to hide illegal funds through the purchase of artworks. She has been involved in two further money-laundering cases: with former National Tax Service Commissioner Han Sang-ryul, and with Namyang chairman Hong Won-sik, the latter involving the painting Hakdong Village (1984) by Choi Wookkyung.


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