South Korean courts on Tuesday sentenced Samsung Group Chairman Lee Jae-Yong’s son to two years in prison and a year and a half for his role in a 2016 corruption scandal that sparked massive street protests and forced South Korea’s then-president from office.
In the retrial, the Seoul Supreme Court found Lee guilty of bribing his father to obtain approval for a merger of two Samsung subsidiaries that helped strengthen control of the country’s largest conglomerate.
Lee was taken into custody after the verdict, wearing a mask, black suit and tie, and did not answer questions from reporters upon his arrival at the court. Lee’s lawyers portrayed him as a victim of the president’s abuse of power, calling the 2015 deal part of normal business. Choi Soon – the son of Lee Jae – and the lawyer who heads his defence team expressed regret at the court’s decision, saying that “the essence of this case is that the former president has abused his power to violate the freedom and property rights of private companies.”
Lee Jae-yong heads the Samsung Group, and prosecutors indicted him separately last September on bribery, money laundering and other crimes related to the 2015 deal. Samsung did not comment on the ruling and its chief executive, Lee Eun-jin did not say specifically whether there would be an appeal.
It was not immediately clear what the ruling would mean for Samsung, but it had a strong year that benefited from strong demand for its high-end smartphones and tablets as well as its semiconductor business. Samsung’s semiconductor business rebounded strongly in 2015, driven by robust demand for PCs and servers, even as a virus outbreak forced millions to work from home. Meanwhile, the smartphone business of the world’s second-largest company after Apple has been hampered by a sharp drop in sales of its flagship Galaxy S7 and Galaxy Note.
Lee, 52, was originally sentenced to five years in prison in 2017 for offering $1.5 billion in bribes to a former Samsung executive. He was released last month after the Seoul Supreme Court reduced his sentence to two – and – one and a half – years and suspended him for three years.
Last week, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Park, who was convicted of colluding with Choi during her 2013-2016 term to take millions of dollars in bribes from some of the country’s largest business groups, including Samsung.
The ruling means Park – who was also convicted of illegally interfering with the party’s nominations for the 2016 general election – will spend 22 years behind bars until 2039, when she would be 87.
At a news conference Monday, Choi, who is serving an 18-year sentence, said she had no intention of pardoning jailed former President Lee Myung-bak, also a close friend of Park’s husband Lee Hae, who is serving a 17-year sentence for corruption.
The Trump administration’s sanctions against China’s Huawei Technologies have meanwhile hindered one of Samsung’s biggest rivals in smartphones, smartphone chips and telecommunications equipment.