In desperation, art seized from tax evaders

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In desperation, art seized from tax evaders

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From left: “Joeung,” a painting by Korean artist Lee Woo-hwan and “Aggregations,” a painting by Chun Kwang-young are two of 23 high-end artworks rounded up by the National Tax Service. Provided by the National Tax Service


Some 23 works of art worth a total of 350 million won ($314,300) were confiscated from the homes and offices of 30 high-profile tax evaders last month, the National Tax Service said.

This is the first time the tax agency has gone after art collections to recoup its losses.

“Joeung,” a painting by Korean artist Lee Woo-hwan, was seized from an online educator which owed the government 150 million won in taxes. It was found to have cost the company 100 million won at an auction early last year. Sotheby’s sold one of Lee’s works for $1.94 million in New York last year, making him the most expensive living Korean artist to date.

In another case, the head of a children’s hospital who owed the government 50 million won in income tax was found to have purchased a work of art by Jang Seung-eop, a late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) artist, worth 70 million won through his wife.

In another example, a private entrepreneur who owed 30 million won was in possession of another piece by a Korean artist Chun Kwang-young valued at 90 million won. Another company sculpture by Japanese artist Hiroto Kitagawa valued at 40 million won - exactly matching its unpaid debts. None of the companies were named in the report. “We found it’s an emerging trend [among tax evaders] to purchase and own high-end artworks instead of real estate or other financial assets,” said an official at the tax agency. “Not only are these art pieces easier to hide, but also their value rarely falls.”

The tax agency said it will continue to track down hidden art works in the hands of tax evaders. The works that are currently being chased down include “Fallen Flower” by Japanese painter Yayoi Kusama, which is estimated to be worth 120 million won, and Damien Hirst’s painting “Butyric Anhydride,” with roughly the same value.

The agency is also looking for a Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume cello bought by a bar owner who owes the government 6.8 billion won in taxes. The instrument is also valued at 120 million won.

By Lee Ho-jeong [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]

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