Samsung Is Without a Leader as Jay Y. Lee Returns to Prison

SEOUL— Samsung ’s de facto leader, Lee Jae-yong, returned to prison, throwing the South Korean conglomerate into disarray during a generational transfer of power as the Covid-19 pandemic revamps key industries.

Mr. Lee, the 52-year-old grandson of Samsung’s founder, received a 30-month prison sentence from a South Korean appeals court on Monday, in a retrial of his 2017 conviction for bribing South Korea’s former president. His prior time behind bars of roughly a year counts toward his new sentence. If granted early parole, Mr. Lee could walk free next year.

Wearing a dark tie and a face mask to court, Mr. Lee was taken into custody after the verdict. He is allowed to appeal to the nation’s Supreme Court, though overturning his new sentence is unlikely, South Korean legal experts say.

A lawyer for Mr. Lee called the court’s decision regrettable, though they didn’t say if they would challenge the outcome. A Samsung Electronics Co. spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

The Samsung conglomerate encompasses dozens of businesses—each with CEOs running day-to-day operations—but major decisions require Mr. Lee’s approval. In a sign of his vast influence, Mr. Lee’s detainment triggered a selloff across Samsung’s affiliates, wiping away billions of dollars in market value. Samsung Electronics fell 3.4%, battery maker Samsung SDI Co. slid 4.2% and Samsung C&T Corp. , the conglomerate’s de facto holding company, dropped 6.8%.

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