Lee Kun-Hee, former Samsung Group chairman, leaves after his trial at the Seoul High Court in Seoul on August 14, 2009. Photo: AFP
Then Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-Hee leaves after his trial at the Seoul High Court in Seoul in an August 14, 2009 file. Photo: AFP

The heirs to South Korea’s Samsung group announced their plans to pay more than US$10 billion in death duties Wednesday – one of the world’s biggest inheritance tax settlements – including donating Picasso and Monet artworks.

Lee Kun-hee, the late Samsung Electronics chairman, was the country’s richest man when he died last October at age 78 after being hospitalized for years, leaving an estimated 22 trillion won (US$19.6 billion) in assets.

South Korea has stringent inheritance tax laws and high rates, resulting in a hefty bill for the family, including Samsung Electronics vice-chairman Lee Jae-yong, who is now in jail for bribery, embezzlement and other offenses.

Lee’s family “expects to pay more than 12 trillion won in taxes related to inheritance, which is more than half of the value of the late Chairman’s total estate,” Samsung said in a statement.

“The inheritance tax payment is one of the largest ever in Korea and globally,” it added, saying the Lee family will pay it off in six installments starting this month.

The assets include shareholdings in Samsung Electronics, Samsung Life and Samsung C&T, as well as real estate, according to the statement.

The late chairman also left a trove of antiques and artworks reportedly worth 2 to 3 trillion won.

About 23,000 pieces from Lee’s collection will be donated, Samsung said, including 14 items classed as National Treasures that will be showcased at the National Museum of Korea.

Works by artists Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin as well as Claude Monet, Joan Miro and Salvador Dali will be donated to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, it added.

Reports say the art donations will reduce the family’s tax liability.

Another 1 trillion won will be donated to health causes, half of it to be spent on building the South’s first specialist infectious diseases hospital.

Samsung – whose flagship subsidiary is among the world’s biggest smartphone and computer chip makers – is by far the largest of the family-controlled empires known as chaebols that dominate business in South Korea, the world’s 12th-largest economy.

The conglomerate is crucial to the South’s economic health – its overall turnover is equivalent to a fifth of the national gross domestic product.

The late chairman’s eldest son and the group’s de facto leader, Lee Jae-yong, was jailed in January over a sprawling corruption scandal that brought down former president Park Geun-hye.

He is undergoing a separate trial over stock manipulation, which critics say was key to ensuring a smooth succession of power within the conglomerate.

Lee apologized last May for some governance issues at the group, pledging to ensure “there will be no more controversy over the succession” and that he would not allow his children to take over from him at the firm.