South Korea's President Donates Personal Assets to Charity

07 July 2009

South Korea's president is donating his personal assets to charity. The former corporate executive has set up a foundation to disperse his fortune of $26 million. From Seoul, Jason Strother has the story.

South Korea President-elect Lee Myung-Bak
South Korea President Lee Myung-Bak
President Lee Myung Bak is standing by his 2007 campaign promise to give his wealth to charity after taking office.  

His assets, including property and personal savings, are valued at $26 million. The president's family will retain close to $4 million and one home and the rest will go to the foundation Mr. Lee is establishing.

The 67-year-old head of state earned much of his wealth while serving as chief executive office and chairman of Hyundai Engineering and Construction before entering politics in the early 1990s.

His new foundation will use the money to fund scholarships and other services for young South Koreans.

Cho Hyun Jin, assistant secretary to the president, thinks Mr. Lee's own experience with poverty has a lot to do with why he chose to give away his wealth.

"He truly understands what severe poverty means and it is his belief that no one should not able to go to school because of poverty," Cho said.

It is unusual in South Korea for a wealthy person to give away so much money. Owners of the nation's family-run conglomerates, known as chaebols, usually pass down wealth to their relatives.

Reaction to Mr. Lee's donation has generally been positive from opposition parties and civic groups that are often critical of the president. But some politicians are concerned that there will not be enough oversight as to how the money is dispersed, noting that Mr. Lee's close associates will run the foundation.

Mr. Cho of the president's office says there is no merit to these complaints.

South Korea's Ministry of Education must first approve the creation of President Lee's foundation before his funds can be transferred to it.