Some 310 Koreans have more than W1 billion in overseas bank accounts, an average of W8 billion each (US$1=W1,121). The account holders live primarily in Seoul's Yongsan and Gangnam districts, where the homes of the super-rich and famous are clustered.
The National Tax Service on Tuesday said a probe of overseas bank accounts held by Koreans shows that 310 individuals and 368 businesses reported at least W1 billion abroad for at least one day last year. The total is W22.8 trillion.
The individuals had 1,124 overseas bank accounts with a total of W2.5 trillion, while the businesses had 5,594 accounts amounting to W20.3 trillion.
Last year, 302 individuals and 350 businesses reported a total of W18.6 trillion abroad. The number of accounts rose four percent but the amount a whopping 22.8 percent.
Koo Jin-yeol at the NTS attributed the rise to increased pressure from tax authorities to report overseas holdings and tougher penalties rather than actually growing amounts.
The NTS has been looking into whether rich Koreans and large businesses were using overseas bank accounts to dodge taxes in Korea.
The biggest number of accounts held by individuals was in U.S. banks (158 people), followed by Hong Kong (43), Singapore (34) and Japan (32). But the most money was held in bank accounts in Japan (W1.14 trillion), followed by the U.S. (W665.8 billion). Some W96.8 billion was in Swiss bank accounts, down from W100.3 billion reported last year.
Yet the largest number of business accounts is held in the United Arab Emirates, where Korean builders are particularly active, with 99. They had more than W6 trillion in Japanese bank accounts.
"Most money is in Japan because a large number of Korean businesses deal with Japanese firms and there are also many Korean students studying there," an NTS official said.
Starting this year, the NTS is publishing the names, ages, professions, addresses and holdings of Koreans who fail to report overseas bank accounts with more than W5 billion.
People who fail to report their overseas holdings voluntarily face fines worth 10 percent of the amount. Last year, 78 people had to pay a total of W8 billion in fines.