Samsung heir Jay Y. Lee has been sentenced to two and a half years of prison over bribery charges, wrapping up a court battle that started four years ago, Bloomberg has reported. Lee was originally jailed for five years back in 2017, but walked free after just a year when his original term was suspended on appeal. South Korea’s Supreme Court overturned that decision and ordered a new trial back in August of 2019.
Lee was arrested as part of the corruption scandal involving South Korean president Park Geun-Hye, who was herself sentenced to 20 years in prison for influence peddling. Lee was found guilty of using his wealth to influence Park on Samsung’s business interests, including a merger of two Samsung units. Prosecutors had initially pushed for a 12-year sentence for Lee to show that even Samung wasn’t above the law.
While in jail, Lee may be unable to make major decisions for Samsung at a crucial time when demand for its memory chips and other products are sky high. Korea and Samsung in particular have attained more prominence of late because of rocky US/China relations.
In the trial’s final hearing, Lee made a lengthy apology and promised to make a “new Samsung,” and “fix what the court has pointed out as the harms of chaebol [family-owned conglomerate],” he said. He also vowed not to pass power down to his children.
The sentence was based in part on the court’s evaluation of an independent compliance committee set up by Samsung to monitor wrongdoing by executives. Lee’s legal woes aren’t over yet, as he’s also on trial for alleged fraud and stock manipulation. He’s still expected to become chairman of Samsung once he goes free, following the death of his father Lee Kun-hee late last year.
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