South Korean president pardons Samsung heir Lee for bribing his predecessor

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Samsung’s de facto leader received a presidential pardon on Friday, clearing the criminal record of the billionaire scion of a huge corruption scandal that sparked nationwide protests in 2017 and reinvigorated a crucial player in the South American economy. Korean.

Lee Jae-yong, who goes by Jay Y. Lee in the West, had been jailed for bribing former South Korean President Park Geun-hye but was released on parole after serving 18 months of his sentence. The pardon allows Lee to formally regain control of the known manufacturing conglomerate for a wide range of consumer electronics, semiconductors and other products, removing the five-year employment ban that was part of his sadness.

The move was widely embraced by business leaders and the general public, believing that its release would boost the competitiveness of the economy. A powerful company with dozens of subsidiaries, Samsung is part of a group of family-controlled conglomerates that dominate economic life in South Korea. These companies are so essential that many tycoons convicted of white-collar crimes have been pardoned to help limit the economic fallout from the absence of key leaders.

But such special treatment, along with the warm relationship between senior business and government officials, has also drawn public outcry from anti-corruption reformers and political opponents. Moon Jae-in, the former president of South Korea, pledged to fight the outsized influence of family conglomerates after his election in 2017. But it was under his administration that Lee was released from prison for the first time last year, underscoring the extension’s political popularity such forgiveness in the name of economic necessity.

Samsung’s size and influence underscore its importance to South Korea’s economy: around 5 million of its citizens own shares of Samsung, whose sprawling operations cover not only popular mobile phones and electronics, but also the construction of roads and oil rigs, operation of hotels and amusement parks. and sale of insurance. The all-purpose monolith is also the country’s largest chaebol – the Korean term for family-controlled business groups that were started with government support – contributing more than 10% of the gross domestic product. from South Korea. It grossed around 77.2 trillion South Korean won in the second quarter of 2022, or around $59 billion. It has a market cap of over $300 billion.

Lee’s actions played into a sensational corruption scandal that became known as “Choi-gate” after Choi Soon-sil, a close friend of Park who became the “shadow president”. Citizens responded with candlelight vigils beginning in 2016.

The protests drew hundreds of thousands of people to Seoul, who took to the streets to call for Park’s resignation with songs, shouts and placards, according to reports from The Washington Post. The scale of the protests and their largely nonviolent nature compared to protests in decades past have put Park and his informal adviser in the spotlight.

Samsung was accused of paying or promising to pay the equivalent of $38 million in return for government support for the merger of two subsidiaries, while Lee and four former Samsung executives were found guilty of paying bribes totaling $6.4 million, including payment for horse training for Choi’s daughter. . The merger was eventually approved.

Lee was convicted of bribery, embezzlement, illegal transfer of assets overseas, concealment of criminal proceeds and perjury.

“I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to make a fresh start,” Lee said in a statement after the pardon was announced. “I will work hard to fulfill my responsibility as an entrepreneur,” he said.

A recent poll showed overwhelming support for the pardon, with more than three quarters of the South Korean public backing it.

“In a bid to overcome the economic crisis by revitalizing the economy, Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, whose suspended prison term ended recently, will be reinstated,” the South Korean government said. Korean in a statement, reported by the Financial Times.

Grace marks the final chapter of the mighty Lee family. Several of its members were involved in corruption schemes, often involving Samsung, before being released.

Lee’s father, the late Lee Kun-hee, also received a presidential pardon following separate convictions, one for bribery and then tax evasion.

He too was pardoned in 1997 for bribing a former president. The second happened in 2008, after a company official said the company kept a secret stash of funds to bribe officials, prosecutors, judges and politicians.

Prosecutors were unable to prove bribery in that case, but charged Lee with tax evasion for hiding money in securities accounts under the names of his aides. This belief forced him to step down from his leadership role, but he returned to the helm two years later so he could work on a lobbying campaign that brought the 2018 Winter Olympics to PyeongChang. The eldest Lee passed the reins of the business to his son after he was incapacitated by a heart attack in 2014.

President Yoon Suk-yeol, who was sworn in earlier this year, is a first-time politician and former attorney general who began his five-year term as the nation faces a series of economic challenges: the soaring house prices, rising income inequality and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yoon, 61, must also work alongside a parliament controlled by the opposing party, governing a divided electorate that elected him by the narrowest margin in the country’s democratic history.

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