Samsung heir Jay Y Lee found guilty of bribery after corruption scandal

25 Aug 2017

Samsung's Seoul headquarters. Image: Marco Bicci/Shutterstock

The heir of Samsung, Jay Y Lee, has been found guilty of bribery.

Following a six-month trial, a court in Seoul, South Korea, has found Jay Y Lee guilty of bribery and embezzlement, sentencing him to five years in prison.

The de facto head of Samsung had initially faced up to 12 years’ imprisonment. The court sided with prosecutors who had accused Lee of paying bribes in anticipation of favours from then president Park Geun-hye, according to Reuters. He was also found guilty of concealing assets abroad, perjury and embezzlement, though he denied all wrongdoing throughout his trial.

Song Wu-cheol, one of Lee’s defence lawyers, described the verdict as “unacceptable” and said that the lower court ruling would be appealed. The five-year sentence is one of the longest prison terms given to a business leader in South Korean history.

‘The essence of this case is the unethical bond between politics and money’

Lee and four other Samsung executives were accused of offering 7.2bn won in bribes to the former South Korean president and an associate of hers, Choi Soon-sil, with the expectation of gaining government support for a merger of two Samsung-controlled companies. Lee’s lawyers had argued that the merger was based on business merits, but this was not accepted by the court.

The New York Times reported that Lee also falsely testified at a parliamentary hearing on the controversy, with the other former executives also getting prison terms or suspended sentences.

A tense time for Samsung

Judge Kim Jin-Don said: “The essence of this case is the unethical bond between politics and money. I hope that power will be used to serve all people and that big businesses will act with social responsibility, through legal economic activities.”

Lee’s father, Lee Kun-hee, was also convicted of tax evasion and bribery on two occasions, but never spent any time in prison. This scandal let to the impeachment of Park, who is also facing her own corruption trial later this year.

The sentencing is a major coup for civic action groups, which were campaigning against corruption in South Korea. It also comes at a critical time for Samsung, just days after its launch of the Galaxy Note8, following the Note7’s recall due to faulty batteries.

Samsung’s Seoul headquarters. Image: Marco Bicci/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects