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South Korean president gives away his fortune

SOUTH Korea's president will donate about 33.1 billion won (US$26 million) - the vast majority of his personal fortune - to establish a new youth scholarship program, his office said yesterday.

President Lee Myung-bak's scholarship foundation will be formally launched early next month, the presidential Blue House said in a statement.

"My fortune, which I accumulated through hard work during my life, is very precious to me," Lee was quoted as saying in a separate Blue House statement.

"I have long thought that it would be good if (my wealth) was spent for society in a valuable way."

Lee plans to donate three buildings he owns in Seoul to the foundation, and the rent from those will fund the students' scholarships, the first statement said.

Lee, a former chief executive of South Korean consortium Hyundai, will have 4.9 billion won left after the donation, the statement said.

Lee took office in February last year and pledged to donate most of his personal wealth to society during the election campaign.

The first statement said he had also expressed such an intention in an autobiography published in 1995, when he was a member of the National Assembly.

Lee, who built a reputation as a man who gets things done, paid his way through university working as a street cleaner.

He became the chief executive of Hyundai at age 35 and led the conglomerate's meteoric rise.

As mayor of Seoul, Lee further made his mark by dismantling an unsightly elevated highway and restoring an ancient stream that has become a popular respite in the city of 10 million people.

"Looking back, I realize that all of them who helped me were also not very well-off," Lee said, referring to people who assisted him during his impoverished youth.

"And I know that the best way for me to pay back such kindness is to give back to society what I earned."


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