South Korea welcomed eight new members into its billionaire club in 2015, according to the Korea’s 50 Richest People list by Forbes. The fourth-largest economy in Asia claims at least 35 billionaires, but there are four members who stand above the rest due to their cultural importance.
The Korean economy is not especially diverse, despite its size and international importance. A handful of companies, led by the Samsung Group, dominates the business community and also holds significant sway over political matters. These four billionaires are not only the richest South Koreans, they are among the most important, regardless of fortune or position.
10. Lee Joong-Keun – Net worth $ 2.3 Billion
Self-made billionaire Lee Joong-Keun built his construction and property business, Booyoung Group, at a time when government policies favored rentals. After declaring bankruptcy in 1979, he put Booyoung shares in his relatives’ names so that he could do deals. Starting in 2004, he served a three-year jail term and paid $11.5 million in fines after being convicted for embezzling company funds. Since his release in 2007, he has been an exemplary success. In the private sector, Booyoung is Korea’s largest provider of rental housing. He’s also been buying up hotels, country clubs and resorts in South Korea. In early 2016, Booyoung agreed to buy the 25-story Samsung Life Insurance building in central Seoul for around $460 million. Lee places considerable emphasis on corporate responsibility, and is known to be a generous benefactor — donating to families of disaster victims and granting scholarships and school supplies to support education in developing Southeast Asian countries. A keen student of modern Korean history, he has authored and published two books. “Liberation 1,775 Days” chronicles what happened during the five-year period after liberation from Japanese colonial rule up until the outbreak of the Korean War. His previous book is titled “The Korea War 1,129 Days.”