Hong Ra Hee is the 6th richest person and the wealthiest woman in South Korea in 2022. According to Forbes, her current net worth is a whopping $4.6 billion USD. The 77-year-old is also known as the most powerful art collector in the country. Her life so far has been nothing but the typical chaebol story you might see in K-Dramas.
In 1945, Hong Ra Hee was born into an influential family in Jeonju when Korea was still under Japanese rule. Her father, Hong Jin Ki, was a Chinilpa, a term that is still used to refer to Koreans who collaborated with Imperial Japan while the country was colonized. Hong Jin Ki studied law and rose to power under Japanese rule. In 1943, he became a judge at the Jeonju District Court. Soon after Korea was liberated, the Special Committee for Prosecution of Anti-National Offenders was set up to purge those Korean nationals in power who supported Japan during colonial rule. But thanks to the political scheme of the first Korean president Syngman Rhee, who came into power with the support of the pro-Japanese Koreans, Hong avoided facing any consequences and continued to rise in power.
He eventually became the Justice Deputy Minister in 1954, then the Minister of Justice in 1958, and finally, the Home Office Minister in 1960. But he was indicted on charges of ordering security forces to shoot innocent protesters during the civil uprising of April 19, 1960. The military government also indicted him for rigging the 4th presidential election, and he was sentenced to death, which was then reduced to life imprisonment.
After a few years of the Revolution Tribunal, he was released on a special amnesty after it was proved that he did not order the shootings. In 1968, Hong Jin Ki was appointed JoonAng Ilbo’s president and became its chairman in 1980. From 1980 to 1984, when he died, he played a vital role in turning JoongAng Ilbo into one of the leading newspapers in the country.
Hong Ra Hee is the second of the five children of Hong Jin Ki. She attended Seoul National University and majored in applied arts. In 1967, she married Lee Kun Hee, son of Lee Byung Chul, the founder of Samsung Group. Lee Kun Hee later became the chairman of Samsung. From 1975 to 1980, Hong worked at JoongAng Ilbo Publications. In 1995, she was appointed as the museum art director at Ho-am Art Museum, owned by her father-in-law Lee Byung Chul. But the most significant part of her career started in 2004 when she started the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art with her husband. Hong used her knowledge and eye for art to build Leeum into one of the most prominent names in the world of art collectors.
But in 2008, she had to step down from her position after Lee Kung Ho was embroiled in tax evasion charges that led to a three-year suspended jail term. In 2008, Lee stepped down from the chairmanship of Samsung Group but returned as the chairman of Samsung Electronics in 2010. The following year, Hong also returned to her position as the director of Leeum. She resigned from the role in 2017 after her son, Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jae Yong, was embroiled in a bribery scandal involving President Park Geun Hye.
When Lee Kun Hee died in 2020, he was the wealthiest man in South Korea, with an estimated net worth of $20 Billion USD. After the transfer of his assets in 2021, Hong acquired 83 million shares of Samsung Electronics Co., becoming the largest shareholder with a 2.3% stake. Hong’s net worth shot up to $7.4 billion USD, making her the wealthiest woman in the country. On the Forbes “Korea’s 50 Richest” list, the second and third richest women are Lee Boo Jin and Lee Soo Hyun, daughters of Hong, with net worths estimated at $3.9 billion USD and $3.6 billion USD, respectively.