South Korean president to pardon Samsung CEO Lee Jae-yong

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Samsung’s de facto executive was pardoned on Friday for bribing a former president in a corruption scandal that toppled a previous South Korean government, an act of leniency that has highlighted the enormous influence of the technology company in the nation.

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Lee Jae-yong’s pardon has been partly symbolic since he was paroled a year ago after serving 18 months of a prison sentence that would have ended in July, and critics say the billionaire kept control of Samsung even behind bars. Nonetheless, the pardon will allow the heir to the electronics juggernaut to fully resume his leadership duties and could facilitate further investment and mergers by the company.

The Justice Ministry said President Yoon Suk Yeol, who as a prosecutor investigated the corruption scandal involving Lee, will grant clemency on Monday, a public holiday when some 1,700 people are expected to receive clemency, including other great business leaders.

Lee, 54, was convicted in 2017 of bribing former president Park Geun-hye and her close confidante to gain government support for a merger between two Samsung subsidiaries that strengthened Lee’s control over the world. corporate empire. Park and the confidante were also convicted in the scandal, which has enraged South Koreans, who have staged massive protests for months to demand an end to murky ties between business and politics. The protests ultimately led to Park’s ousting from office.

While some civic groups criticized the decision, recent opinion polls indicated that South Koreans – years removed from the 2016 and 2017 protests – were broadly in favor of granting Lee a pardon. This reflects Samsung’s continued stranglehold in a country where it not only manufactures smartphones and televisions, but also issues credit cards, builds luxury apartment buildings and runs the country’s most sought-after hospital.

Business leaders and politicians had also asked for Lee’s pardon, which they said would allow Samsung, one of the world’s biggest makers of computer memory chips and smartphones, to be bolder and faster in his business decisions by fully restoring his rights to run the business empire.

Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon said the pardons granted to business tycoons were aimed at “overcoming the economic crisis by encouraging business activity” at a time when South Koreans are grappling with rising prices, high personal debt and a failing labor market.

Lee’s critics say he has already fully resumed his managerial duties once paroled – even though South Korean law prohibits those convicted of major financial crimes from returning to work for five years after the end of their term. sadness. Former justice minister Park Beom-kye has defended Lee’s involvement in running Samsung, insisting his activities did not violate the ban because the billionaire was not receiving a salary from Samsung.

In a statement released by Samsung, Lee said he was grateful to have “been given the opportunity to start over.”

“I want to express my apologies for causing concern to many people because of my shortcomings. I will work even harder to fulfill my responsibilities and duties as a businessman,” Lee said.

Lee still faces a separate lawsuit for stock price manipulation and audit violations related to the 2015 merger.

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Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin, who received a suspended prison sentence in 2018 on similar charges of bribing Park, whom then-chairman Moon Jae-in pardoned in December, is especially about to be pardoned. Chang Sae-joo, chairman of Dongkuk Steel Mill, and former STX Group chairman Kang Duk-soo will also be granted clemency.

A coalition of civic groups, including People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, released a statement criticizing the decision to pardon the business leaders, accusing Yoon of siding with ‘chaebol’, referring to the family conglomerates that dominate the country’s economy. .

“President Yoon Suk Yeol’s (corporate) betrayal sends a signal to chaebol leaders that they are free to commit any crimes they want,” the groups said, accusing Yoon of undermining the rule of law. .

Former President Park was found guilty of a wide range of corruption crimes, including colluding with her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil to receive millions of dollars in bribes and extortion from Samsung and other big companies during his tenure.

She faced a prison sentence of more than two decades before Moon pardoned her in December, citing the need to promote unity in the politically divided nation. Choi remains in jail. Chang, of Dongkuk Steel Mill, was paroled in 2018 with about six months remaining on a 3.5-year prison term for embezzling millions of dollars in corporate funds and using some of them to gamble. Vegas.

South Korea’s Supreme Court last year upheld a suspended prison sentence for Kang, who ran STX from 2003 to 2014, for embezzlement of corporate funds and other crimes.

Former President Lee Myung-bak, who was granted temporary release from a 17-year prison term in June after prosecutors acknowledged his health problems, was excluded from Yoon’s pardon.

Han, the justice minister, said the government had not considered pardoning convicted politicians or government workers this time, saying the focus was on the economy.

Lee, a CEO turned Tory hero before his fall from grace, was found guilty of accepting bribes from major corporations including Samsung, embezzling funds from a company he owned and other corruption-related crimes before and during his presidency from 2008 to 2013. .


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