The heir to Samsung Electronics, and grandson of the company’s founder, has been pardoned by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. Jay Y. Lee’s arrest and conviction in 2017 sent shockwaves through South Korea. Amongst other things, he was accused of bribing the country’s then-president, Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and convicted on corruption charges around that time. While he was attempting to take the top job at Samsung, Lee paid $36 million dollars to the former president in an attempt to secure government support. Other bribes issued by Lee include a one billion won (roughly $760,000) horse bought for the former president’s chief of staff’s daughter.
The key players in the scandal were given prison time. Lee was sentenced to five years in prison, of which he served 18 months, followed by a period of probation. Park was given 24 years, which was later extended to 25. Samsung’s CEO also resigned amidst the fallout, describing the event as an “unprecedented crisis.” Lee had been running Samsung between his father Lee Kun Hee’s hospitalization in 2014 and his conviction. The elder Lee died in 2020.
Despite the pardon, Lee’s legal battles are not over. The Samsung heir is currently attending weekly hearings for a case related to the merger of Samsung subsidiaries.
Lee may soon be back on the board
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Following the pardon, it seems likely Lee will be re-appointed to the Samsung board. In a statement, the South Korean government said: “In a bid to overcome the economic crisis by vitalizing the economy, Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, whose suspended prison term was ended recently, will be reinstated.” According to Bloomberg, Lee’s return is seen by many in Korea as a way to stabilize the country’s faltering economy. Like many nations, the Asian democracy is suffering from the combined effects of the coronavirus pandemic, supply shortages caused by the war in Ukraine, a global semiconductor shortage harming the tech and automotive industries, and the highest rates of inflation in decades. The news of Lee’s pardon has already boosted Samsung’s share price by 1.3%.
The special pardon will take effect on August 15, the anniversary of South Korea’s independence. Lee has issued a statement apologizing to the people of Korea and saying that he “will try harder to give back to society and grow together.” He had previously been barred from working as a condition of his probation. As a result, Lee could not take a formal role on the board and his involvement with Samsung was limited to receiving reports from company officials. Despite a grim earnings forecast, Samsung unveiled several upcoming devices at its annual Galaxy Unpacked event. The new range of tech included an upgraded version of its Galaxy Buds Pro earphones, several folding phones, and some new Galaxy smartwatches.