Samsung Heir Freed by South Korean Appeals Court
Samsung Heir Freed from Sentence
A South Korea appeals court set the Samsung Heir, Lee Jae-yong, free on Monday from his five-year jail sentence for corruption and bribery. According to Nikkei, Lee has been detained on these charges since February 2017 although his sentencing was in August 2017.
Reuters reported that the Seoul High Court upheld the lower court’s conviction of bribing ousted President Park Geun-hye through the proxy of a friend and for embezzlement. The appeals court differed, however, in regards to the size of the bribe – reduced from $6.4 million to $3.31 million – and in the conviction that Lee sought “any help from Park.”
The presiding senior judge described Lee’s personal involvement in Samsung’s support of Park as “passive compliance to political power… Park threatened Samsung Electronics executives. The defendant provided a bribe, knowing it was bribery to support (the friend’s daughter), but was unable to refuse.”
In reflection of these differences, the Seoul High Court cut the original five-year sentence in half and suspended the two-and-a-half year sentence for four years, “meaning that he is unlikely to serve any more time in jail,” according to Reuters. The Associated Press also reported that Lee repaid Samsung Electronics for the embezzled funds used to bribe Park.
This massive reprieve is not where this story ends, however – Lee’s lawyers plan to appeal the bribery and embezzlement charges to the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn all convictions.
How Will Samsung Move On?
Although Lee is a free man as of Monday, it is unknown how quickly he will return to Samsung and in what capacity. Still branded with a criminal conviction and with yet another appeal on the horizon, it could hurt Samsung’s corporate image to have Lee serve in an active, prominent role in the interim.
In addition, this surprise reversal has come as a shock to South Koreans, still reeling from the impeachment and on-going criminal trial of former President Park. Samsung will have to overcome significant negative public opinion. In particular, this political scandal has increased public pressure in South Korea to hold the powerful chaebol conglomerates to account.
Considering the government’s long history of pardoning chaebol leaders, including Lee’s father, the public has good reason to be angry. According to the Associated Press, “many South Koreans were expecting a tough stance from the appeals court and took to social media and online news portals to vent their anger at the ruling and the judge who issued the verdict.”
Others in the South Korean business community, however, believe Lee’s release will mean increased investment and job creation in future. According to Reuters, the head of a South Korean lobby group for small and mid-sized firms stated:
“Parts of our community feel Lee’s suspended jail sentence is against the people’s will, but if he continued to stay in jail, it would have been a burden not just to Samsung but to all its countless subcontractors here. One good thing about having the owner of the conglomerate back is he can make decisions quickly. We are looking forward to any action to boost the economy by Samsung, our global brand, which also can help calm public ire.”