Samsung’s de facto leader, imprisoned for bribery, will be paroled.
SEOUL – Lee Jae-yong, the de facto head of the vast Samsung conglomerate who has been jailed for corruption, will be paroled on Friday, South Korea’s justice ministry said on Monday.
The ministry’s parole committee met on Monday and decided to release Mr. Lee and 800 other prisoners ahead of National Liberation Day on August 15, which commemorates the end of Japanese colonial rule of Korea at the end. of World War II. South Korea often frees or pardons prisoners to mark major national holidays.
Mr Lee, also known as Jay Y. Lee, was serving a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for bribing former South Korean President Park Geun-hye who was dismissed and removed from office for corruption and abuse of power. .
As vice chairman of Samsung, Mr. Lee has run the conglomerate since a heart attack hit his father, Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee, in 2014. His father passed away last October and Mr. Lee is his only son.
Samsung is the largest and most lucrative of a handful of family conglomerates, or chaebol, that have helped South Korea move from a war-torn agrarian economy to a global export powerhouse. The group’s electronics unit, Samsung Electronics, alone accounts for nearly a fifth of the country’s total exports.
But South Koreans have also grown weary of recurring corruption scandals among the chaebols. Mr Lee’s father was twice convicted of bribes and other corruption charges, but never spent a single day in jail, leading many to believe Samsung was untouchable.
South Koreans are divided over whether Mr. Lee was worth parole.
Outside the Department of Justice, where the parole committee met on Monday, activists opposed Mr. Lee’s parole, holding up signs saying let him walk without serving his prison term would be another example of excessive leniency towards business tycoons convicted of corruption.
Prior to Mr. Lee’s parole, the Justice Department said it would be easier for inmates with good behavior to apply for parole. Until now, it has been rare for the ministry to release inmates who have served less than 70% of their sentence. Mr. Lee has finished serving 60 percent of his sentence, and critics have accused the ministry of changing its parole guidelines in his favor.
But a majority of South Koreans have supported Mr. Lee’s early release, recent polls show. Other business tycoons, pro-business lobbies and even some of the politicians campaigning for the presidential election next March have called for Mr. Lee’s release.
“We have included Vice President Lee in the list of people who would be paroled, taking into account the national and global economic situation amid the protracted Covid-19 pandemic,” the justice minister said on Monday. , Park Beom-kye.
Samsung is run by an army of professional managers. But those who supported Lee’s parole have argued that his imprisonment created uncertainty at a time when the South Korean tech giant needed to make bold investments and acquisitions amid a global chip shortage.
Local media added to public anxiety by reporting that with Mr Lee locked up, Samsung was postponing key strategic decisions, including the location of a $ 17 billion chip factory in the United States, while that rival chipmakers like TSMC and Intel were making significant investments. .
But it was unclear how actively Mr. Lee might be involved in running Samsung after his parole was released. He had been banned from returning to work for five years, and the Justice Department did not lift that ban.
Mr. Lee also faces other legal issues. He is on trial on separate criminal charges of stock price manipulation and unfair trading. Mr. Lee said he was innocent.
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