A five-year jail term looms for Jay Y. Lee, the head of Samsung Group, in the wake of a bribery scandal and trial that also snared former president Park Geun-hye.
Reuters reported that the jail term for Lee, regarded as heir to the sprawling conglomerate, began after a trial that lasted half a year that had found him guilty of bribery. The sentence marks a “watershed” for South Korea amid a corporate landscape long marked by the conglomerate structure and typically controlled by families. Lee had also been found guilty of perjury.
The five-year sentence stands as one of the longest ones handed down to a business executive in the country.
The newswire noted that Lee had been charged with bribery in efforts to help Park gain control of Samsung, which has diverse operations ranging from drugs to computer chips.
Seoul Central District Court Judge Kim Jin-dong said that “this case is a matter of Lee Jae-yong [Lee’s Korean name] and Samsung Group executives, who had been steadily preparing for Lee’s succession” through bribery. Lee has said he did nothing wrong, and his lawyers have said that an appeal would be forthcoming.
In the past, other powerful business people have been convicted of crimes included bribery and were then pardoned — but this time may be different, as Reuters has noted that the new president, Moon Jae-in, has said that the conglomerate, or chaebol system, would no longer see that pardon process continue. In addition, sentences longer than three years, under the country’s own laws, cannot be suspended.
Lee is the third-generation head of Samsung, the driving force since his father was sidelined by a heart attack three years ago. The company has dozens of affiliates and in dollar terms has an asset base of $322 billion. The company carries weight in the stock market too, with 30 percent of the market cap sported by the country’s KOSPI index.
Reuters reported that Samsung’s financial backing of the business interests of Choi Soon-sil, known as a friend of Park, was tantamount to bribery — with, notably, $6.4 million going to support equestrian activities of Choi’s daughter. Prosecutors said that Samsung sought support from the government for a 2015 merger of two of its affiliates.