Samsung Chief Is Needed at Work, Will Be Pardoned

Lee Jae-yong's pardon is partially symbolic since he was released on parole a year ago
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 12, 2022 6:44 AM CDT
Samsung Chief Who Bribed President Nabs Presidential Pardon
Samsung Electronics Co. Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong bows before leaving the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022.   (Kim Ju-sung/Yonhap via AP)

The heir and de-facto leader of Samsung, twice imprisoned for bribing a former president of South Korea, has just received a presidential pardon. Lee Jae-yong's pardon is partially symbolic since he was released on parole a year ago after serving 18 months of a prison term that would have ended in July, and critics say the billionaire has remained in control of Samsung even while behind bars, per the AP. Still, the pardon will allow the heir to the electronics juggernaut to fully resume his management duties—people convicted of major financial crimes in South Korea can't officially return to work for five years following the end of their sentences—and could make it easier for the company to pursue investments and mergers.

The Justice Ministry said President Yoon Suk Yeol, who as a prosecutor investigated the corruption scandal involving Lee, will issue the pardon Monday, a national holiday when some 1,700 people are set to receive clemency, including other top business leaders. Lee, 54, was convicted in 2017 of bribing former President Park Geun-hye and her close confidante to win government support for a merger between two Samsung affiliates that tightened Lee’s control over the corporate empire. Park and the confidante were also convicted in the scandal, which enraged South Koreans, who staged massive protests for months demanding an end to the shady ties between business and politics. The demonstrations eventually led to Park's ouster from office.

Some civic groups criticized the decision, which "reaffirms popular conception that business leaders are untouchable and above the law," per the BBC. But recent opinion polls have indicated South Koreans, concerned about a recession, largely favored granting Lee a pardon. That reflects the continuing hold Samsung has in a country where it makes not just smartphones and TVs but also issues credit cards, builds luxury apartment buildings, and runs the country's most sought-after hospital. Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon said the pardons of the business tycoons were aimed at "overcoming the economic crisis through encouraging business activity." Lee still faces a separate trial on charges of stock price manipulation and auditing violations related to the 2015 merger. (More South Korea stories.)

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