Samsung’s Lee handed 30-month prison term in bribery trial

South Korean court gives Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jae-yong prison sentence for his role in 2016 corruption scandal, which will have major ramifications for his leadership of the tech giant.

Lee Jae-yong’s lawyers had portrayed him as a victim of presidential power abuse and described the 2015 deal as part of “normal business activity.”

Billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong is heading back to prison after a South Korean court sentenced him to two and a half years over his involvement in a 2016 corruption scandal that spurred massive protests and ousted South Korea’s then-president.

In a much-anticipated retrial on Monday, the Seoul High Court found Lee guilty of bribing then-President Park Geun-hye and her close confidante to win government support for a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates. 

The deal helped strengthen his control over the country’s largest business group.

Lee’s lawyers had portrayed him as a victim of presidential power abuse and described the 2015 deal as part of “normal business activity.” 

It wasn’t immediately known whether he would appeal. Prosecutors had sought a nine-year prison term for Lee.

Lee helms the Samsung group in his capacity as vice president of Samsung Electronics, one of the world’s largest makers of computer chips and smartphones.

Samsung heir charged with fraud over succession-linked deal

Corruption scandal

Lee, 52, was sentenced in 2017 to five years in prison for offering $7 million in bribes to Park and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. But he was freed in early 2018 after the Seoul High Court reduced his term to 2 and a half years and suspended his sentence, overturning key convictions and reducing the amount of his bribes.

Park and Choi are serving prison terms of 22 years and 18 years, respectively.

In 2019, the Supreme Court returned the case to the high court, ruling that the amount of Lee’s bribes had been undervalued. 

It said the money that Samsung spent to purchase three racehorses used by Choi’s equestrian daughter and fund a winter sports foundation run by Choi’s niece also should be considered bribes.

Leadership vacuum?

Samsung is by far the biggest of the family-controlled conglomerates, or chaebols, that dominate business in the world’s 12th-largest economy.

Its overall turnover is equivalent to a fifth of the national gross domestic product and it is crucial to South Korea’s economic health.

Its rise has been driven by a willingness to invest billions in strategic bets on key technologies.

But experts say the sentence will create a leadership vacuum that could hamper its decision-making on future large-scale investments.

South Korea’s ousted president has been jailed. What happens next?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies

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