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“20 Years Married, Half the Money” How the Enviable “Celebrity Couple” Ended Up in Court

The divorce case of Smilegate founder Kwon Hyuk-bin, the chief vision presentation officer (CVO), dubbed the “divorce case of the century,” has begun in earnest with the start of interviews. Kwon, who represents the Korean game industry, is estimated to have assets worth 10 trillion won, raising speculation that the division of property could reach trillions of won.

On the morning of the 9th, the Seoul Family Court’s Family Division 3 (Chief Judge Won Won-sook) held a closed-door interview for about two hours in the divorce case filed by spouse Lee against CVO Kwon. The interview is a process in which a family investigator meets with the parties to investigate the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage, sources of conflict안전놀이터, and custody issues. The parties must attend in person, not through a representative.

Smilegate office building [Herald Economic DB]

This is the first time CVO Kwon has appeared in public since the divorce proceedings began. Kwon’s divorce case became public in November last year. His spouse, Lee, reportedly demanded a property division of up to half of the shares in Smilegate Holdings, claiming that they were married for 20 years, raised children together, and served as the CEO of Smilegate during its early years.

Mr. Lee also filed a preliminary injunction lawsuit to prevent CVO Kwon from disposing of his Smilegate Holdings shares until the divorce and property division proceedings were finalized. In response, CVO Kwon requested that the divorce case be dismissed. In order for Mr. Lee’s property division claim to be accepted, the divorce case must be established by proving probable cause for divorce.

If the divorce requested by Mr. Lee is granted, it could disrupt Mr. Kwon’s one-man governance system. He has insisted on keeping all affiliates, including the holding company, private since the dispute during the startup process. He is also very conservative about outside investment. In 2007, he received 2.5 billion won in investment from MVP Startup Investment, but in 2011, as soon as the game development was completed, he acquired MVP Startup Investment for 14 billion won and made it a subsidiary.

Ranked among the top 5 richest people in Korea by Forbes. Kwon Hyuk-bin, founder of Smilegate, is number 5. [Photo courtesy of Forbes].

Kwon holds a 100% stake in Smilegate Holdings, a holding company with affiliated companies such as Smilegate Alpigee and Smilegate Entertainment. If the divorce materializes, she will have to divide up to 5 trillion won in assets with Mr. Lee. If Lee becomes the second-largest shareholder of Smilegate Holdings and sells his stake to an outside party, it could mean that Kwon’s fear of outside investor involvement in the company’s management could become a reality.

Born in 1974, Kwon graduated from Sogang University’s electronics department in 1999 and founded Smilegate in 2002. After serving as CEO and Chairman of the Board of Smilegate Holdings, a holding company, he became Chairman of the Board of Hope Studio, a public benefit foundation, in 2017. Since 2020, he has also served as the Chief Visionary Officer (CVO) of Smilegate.

Kwon Hyuk-bin, founder of Smilegate [Photo by Jae-Hyun Kim for Forbes].

He and his wife, Ms. Lee, met as classmates at Sogang University and married in 2001. When Smilegate was founded, Kwon reportedly owned 70 percent of the company and Lee owned 30 percent. Mr. Lee became the CEO of Smilegate in 2002 and oversaw the company’s operations. In a 2009 interview with a media outlet, CVO Kwon said, “It is thanks to my wife that I can enjoy a second heyday with Smilegate.”

Smilegate grew into a large game company based on the success of its 2006 game “Crossfire” in the Chinese market, and in 2018, it scored back-to-back hits with the MMORPG “LostArc”. The company then expanded into the financial sector as well as the gaming industry by establishing Smilegate Investment and Smilegate Asset Management.

In April last year, Forbes, a U.S. economic magazine, released its annual ranking of the world’s billionaires, ranking Kwon as the fifth richest person in South Korea with assets totaling $6.8 billion (8.78 trillion won). He was ranked fifth in South Korea after Kakao Chairman Kim Bum-soo, Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong, MBK Partners Chairman Kim Byung-joo, and Celltrion Group Chairman Seo Jeong-jin.

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