The net worth of singer Seo Tai-ji has been a tightly guarded secret, but an alimony lawsuit his ex-wife Lee Ji-ah has filed means that the cat is now out of the bag. Seo's assets are estimated at W40-50 billion (US$1=W1,081).
The singer owns a W20 billion building in Nonhyun-dong in Seoul’s affluent Gangnam area and a W3 billion home in the tony residential neighborhood of Pyeongchang-dong in the northern part of the capital. Proceeds from album sales from 1992 to 1995 alone plus revenues from copyrighted materials are estimated at W20 billion.
A lawsuit over division of assets starts by adding up the total assets that have been accumulated over the course of a couple's marriage. Seo and Lee are expected to clash over which assets are included in that category and how much they are worth.
Lee's share of the pie will be decided by a court decision on how much she has contributed to amassing it. In cases involving double-income couples, the wife is entitled to half of the assets, but legal experts believe it will be difficult to apply that rule directly since Seo was probably much richer than Lee, who was a student at the time.
The W500 million alimony suit will focus on which spouse was responsible for breaking up the marriage. If the court rules that Seo played a larger role, then he will be ordered to pay a certain amount of alimony, but if Lee is found to have played a bigger role in breaking up the marriage, or if both Seo and Lee are ruled to have played an equal role, then the alimony suit could be thrown out altogether.
Korean courts rarely award more than W100 million in alimony, but legal experts say the fact that Lee had to conceal the marriage could be taken into account in this case, along with other unique conditions of their secretive marital relationship. There is also the possibility of the two settling out of court or Lee withdrawing the lawsuit altogether.