The Korea Herald


Head of construction giant hands out cash to hometown residents

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : June 28, 2023 - 16:18

    • Link copied

Booyoung Group Chairman Lee Joong-keun (Booyoung Group) Booyoung Group Chairman Lee Joong-keun (Booyoung Group)

Every household in a small rural village in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, received cash gifts up to as much as 90.2 million won ($69,000) per household in the past month.

The generous donor was Lee Joong-keun, the 82-year-old founder of property developer Booyoung Group, who grew up there in poverty and wanted to express his “thanks to the support of villagers.”

According to the conglomerate, all 280 households in its chairman's hometown of Unpyeong-ri were wired cash, ranging from a minimum 26 million won to a maximum 90.2 million won after tax deduction.

The amount varied depending on the number of years the householders resided in the village. The longer residents had lived there, the larger the amount.

“The chairman didn’t intend for this to be publicly disclosed. His sole purpose was to express gratitude to those who have preserved his hometown throughout the years,” the group said, while clarifying that the donations are from Lee’s personal coffers.

Including the cash handouts, Lee donated gifts, books and other items worth a total 240 billion won to his hometown.

The tycoon, with a net worth of nearly 20 trillion won, is known for his philanthropy. He has built more than 120 dormitories and libraries for schools here and more than 600 elementary schools in Southeast Asia.

The Booyoung chairman came from humble beginnings.

Born in 1941 to a poor family in Unpyeong-ri, he moved to Seoul after completing middle school. In the capital, he worked his way through a night-time high school and got admitted into Konkuk University. Financial difficulties, however, forced him to give up on education in his junior year.

In 1972, he founded the now-defunct Woojin Construction Co. and in 1976 Samjin Engineering, which eventually became today’s Booyoung, which ranks as the 22nd largest company in Korea with some 21 trillion won in assets.

Lee’s business was initially focused on rental housing, but later expanded to include hotels, golf clubs and resorts.

Despite his accolades, Lee has been under repeated scrutiny on allegations of tax evasion and embezzlement. He was sentenced to over two years in prison for embezzlement in 2020, but was released early in 2021 on special pardon.

Booyoung is one of the most mysterious conglomerates in Korea, as the company and all of its affiliates remain unlisted, and most of its stocks are owned by family members. The Fair Trade Commission found that Booyoung had at least 13 major violations between 1993 and 2012.

Due to its exclusive cross-sharing structure, Lee is estimated to hold some 98.67 percent of the group’s managerial ownership, including shares owned by his sons, according to Financial Supervisory Service data.

Lee is also chairman of the Korean Senior Citizens Association that is dedicated to promoting the rights and welfare of elderly Koreans.