A rich man’s world

Sam Pizzigati
Friday, Feb 23, 2024

Activists in Switzerland’s Young Socialists group want to seriously tax the huge inheritances their nation’s fabulously rich routinely pass on to family and friends.

The 140,000 signatures the activists’ ‘For the Future’ initiative has collected add up to much more than enough to place on the Swiss ballot a proposition that would, if enacted, subject all inheritances over 50 million Swiss francs – the equivalent of about $57.3 million – to a 50 per cent tax.

The proceeds from that tax – an estimated $6.8 billion a year – would enable what the ‘For the Future’ initiative is calling a “socially equitable financing of climate protection.” Swiss federal and canton authorities would be able to use the billions in proceeds from the proposed tax on everything from developing renewable energy to boosting public transportation.

All this Swiss activist interest in curbing the wealth of the wealthy should come as no surprise. Switzerland currently boasts more billionaires per capita than all but two of the world’s political nation states. Swiss billionaires range from Rafaela Aponte-Diamant and Gianluigi Aponte, shipping magnates worth $29.4 billion each who share 54th place on the Forbes real-time world billionaire list, to Stephane Bonvin, a real-estate king who sits in 2,394th place with a fortune worth a mere $1.1 billion.

On that same Forbes billionaire list, all the way down at the bottom, sits South Korea’s Lee Jay-hyun in 2,532nd place. Lee just happens to boast a bio that touches all the billionaire bases, encompassing everything from corruption and corporate power to inherited grand fortune and political clout.

Lee’s granddad, for starters, founded the Samsung global electronics empire. That gave Lee a head-start in life that surely didn’t hurt his climb to the top of the CJ Group, the giant food and beverage conglomerate that Lee currently chairs.

Back in 2014, Lee held that same corporate power position. But a South Korean court that year found Lee, then his nation’s tenth-richest man, guilty of embezzling $156 million and stashing that tidy sum offshore. The judge in the case, citing Lee’s “social status and social responsibility,” ruled he deserved a “tough punishment” and sentenced him to four years in prison – on top of a stiff fine.

Lee ended up never having to serve that prison sentence. In 2016, “after gathering diverse opinions to unite our people and overcome an economic crisis,” South Korea’s Justice Ministry announced that the nation’s president had decided to pardon the then 56-year-old Lee in honor of the nation’s upcoming Liberation Day holiday.

Excerpted: ‘The Next Billionaire Thing: Hunting

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