Billionaire Lee Jae-yong, convicted of corruption and embezzlement last January, received a presidential pardon on Friday, August 12. The heir and de facto head of the Samsung group will be “refunded” for “to help overcome the economic crisis in South Korea”Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon said.
This pardon is the latest example of a long South Korean tradition of leniency against big bosses convicted of corruption and other financial crimes.
Mr. Lee, 54 – 278me richest person in the world according to Forbes – had been conditionally released in August 2021, after serving eighteen months in prison, just over half of his original sentence. Friday’s pardon will allow him to return to full work, lifting his five-year court-imposed work ban after his prison sentence.
“Due to the global economic crisis, the dynamism and vitality of the national economy have deteriorated, and it is feared that the economic recession will continue”the Justice Department said in a statement. The latter hopes that the employer can “Lead the country’s growth engine by actively investing in technology and creating jobs”.
A turnover equivalent to a fifth of the country’s GDP
Lee Jae-yong was pardoned along with three other businessmen, including Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin, who received a two-and-a-half-year suspended prison sentence in a corruption case in 2018.
Mr. Lee is the vice president of Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest smartphone maker. The conglomerate’s total revenue is equivalent to a fifth of South Korea’s gross domestic product. He was jailed for crimes related to a massive corruption scandal that brought down former president Park Geun-hye.
It is not uncommon for top South Korean tycoons to be accused of corruption, embezzlement, tax evasion, or other illegal economic activities. But many have had their sentences reduced or suspended on appeal, and some, including the late Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee, who was convicted twice, have received presidential pardons in recognition of their “contribution to the national economy”.
South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl said on Friday that the pardons were aimed at improving the lot of “ordinary people who have been affected by the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic”. “I hope this special pardon is an opportunity for all South Koreans to work together to overcome the economic crisis.”he added.
A separate lawsuit for accounting fraud
Mr. Lee still faces a separate trial on accounting fraud charges related to the merger of two Samsung companies in 2015. In May, he was excused from attending a hearing in that trial to accommodate, along with chairman Yoon, US President Joe Biden, who was on tour in South Korea, in particular to visit the Samsung chip factory.
The pardon granted to Lee comes after Samsung unveiled a huge investment plan of 450 trillion won (about 345 billion euros) for the next five years, with the aim of making the company a leader in a wide range of sectors, from semiconductors to biological products, and to create 80,000 new jobs. The company also employs about 20,000 people in the United States, where a new semiconductor factory is under construction in Texas, scheduled to open in 2024.
But the tycoon’s imprisonment hasn’t affected the performance of the company, which reported a more than 70% rise in profit in the second quarter of last year, as the shift to remote work boosted demand for devices using its chips. memory
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