- Lee Jae-yong, Samsung heir returned to jail after a 30-month term was handed down by an appeals court on charges of bribing the former president of South Korea.
- Lee, 52, was also accused of bribing former President Park Geun-hye’s associate and jailed in 2017 for five years
- He denied misconduct and the sentence was shortened and suspended on appeal, and after serving a year, he was released
Samsung billionaire Lee Jae-yong was sent back to jail on Monday after he was sentenced to two and a half years jail by a South Korean court for his role in a 2016 corruption scandal that spurred major street protests and ousted the then-president of South Korea.
The Seoul High Court, in a much-awaited retrial, found Lee Jae-yong guilty of bribing then-President Park Geun-hye and her close confidante to secure government support for a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates that helped boost his control of the largest business group in the world.
Lee was portrayed by his lawyers as a victim of abuse of presidential power and described the 2015 deal as part of “regular business activity”.
Lee was wearing a mask and a black suit and tie while he was taken into custody following the ruling. Upon his arrival in custody, he did not answer reporters’ questions.
Injae Lee, an attorney who heads the defense team of Lee Jae-yong, expressed remorse over the decision of the court, arguing that the “essence of the case is that a former president abused the power to infringe a private company’s freedom and property rights.”
He did not say clearly whether there was going to be an appeal. A clarification about the decision was not released by Samsung.
In his role as vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, one of the world’s largest producers of computer chips and smartphones, Lee Jae-yong heads the Samsung group.
In September last year, prosecutors separately indicted Lee on charges of manipulation of stock prices, loss of confidence and audit breaches connected with the 2015 merger.
Samsung did not show any signs of trouble during previous time Lee spent in jail in 2017 and 2018, and prison sentences never really prevented South Korean business leaders from relaying their management decisions from behind bars. It isn’t clear what Lee Jae-yong prison term will mean for Samsung.
With its dual strength in parts and finished products, Samsung is coming off a strong business year, allowing it to benefit from the coronavirus pandemic and the prolonged trade war between the United States and China.
After a weak 2019, Samsung’s semiconductor business rebounded sharply, driven by strong demand for PCs and servers as coronavirus outbreaks forced millions of people to stay and work at home.
Meanwhile, the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on China’s Huawei Technologies have impeded one of Samsung’s main competitors in smartphones, mobile chips and telecommunications equipment.
Lee, 52, who is grandson of Samsung’s founder, was initially sentenced to five years in prison in 2017 for offering Park and her long-time friend, Choi Soon-sil, 8.6 billion won ($7 million) in bribes. But in February 2018, after the Seoul High Court shortened his term to 21⁄2 years and suspended his sentence, overturning key convictions and decreasing the amount of his bribes, he was released after 11 months.
Last week, the Supreme Court upheld a 20-year jail term for Park, who was convicted of colluding with Choi to take millions of dollars in bribes and extort money from some of the biggest business groups in the world, including Samsung, when she was in office from 2013 to 2016.
The decision meant that Park, who also has a separate conviction for unlawfully intervening in the candidate nominations of her party ahead of parliamentary elections in 2016, will possibly spend 22 years behind bars until 2039, when she will be 87.
Choi is serving an 18-year term in jail.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday at a news conference that he has no immediate plans to offer presidential pardons to Park and another jailed former president, Lee Myung-bak, who is serving a 17-year corruption sentence.
Conservative leaders and some members of Moon’s liberal party embraced the idea of pardoning former presidents for the sake of “national unity” as the country’s highly divided electorate approaches the presidential elections in March 2022.