Samsung heir Jay Y Lee freed from South Korean jail

5 Feb 2018

A 2017 protest called for the punishment of Jay Y Lee and Park Geun-hye. Image: Sagase48/Shutterstock

Samsung group heir Jay Y Lee has sentence suspended following corruption scandal.

A South Korean appeals court let Samsung Electronics vice-chair Jay Y Lee go today (5 February) in a shocking reversal. Lee was found guilty of bribery and embezzlement in a Seoul courtroom last August, but maintained his complete innocence throughout the trial process.

Lee, along with four other Samsung executives, was accused of offering more than 7bn won in bribes to former South Korean president Park Geun-hye and her associate, Choi Soon-sil. The alleged bribes were paid in an effort to secure government support for a merger of two companies controlled by Samsung.

A shock decision

The court halved Lee’s original five-year sentence and suspended it, meaning he does not need to serve any more time in prison.

Lee had been in custody since February 2017. Prosecutors had originally been gunning for a 12-year sentence for Lee, according to Bloomberg. They said it would help in the re-evaluation of relations between business and government in the country.

Park was dismissed in March following her impeachment, and the case has whipped up anger among the South Korean public about the close ties between large family-owned companies – or chaebols – and the government. Park is on trial facing separate charges of corruption and abuse of power.

The judge told the court that there was no evidence of “power-business collusion”, adding that the “essence of this case is that the defendant passively answered to political power”. Judge Cheong Hyung-sik said that Park “browbeat” the Samsung executives, including Lee, into giving the bribes. The judge added that the defendant (Lee) provided a bribe but “was unable to refuse”.

Lee remains on probation

Lee will remain on probation for four years and plans to fight the remaining guilty verdicts despite winning his freedom. The prosecutors in the case may take it to the supreme court.

The decision to free Lee comes just a few days before South Korea’s duties as Winter Olympics host for 2018 get underway. He can now return to his multiple corporate duties, including the directorship of Samsung Electronics, albeit likely with a lower public profile.

A 2017 protest called for the punishment of Jay Y Lee and Park Geun-hye. Image: Sagase48/Shutterstock

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