Samsung heir sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for corruption

Daniel Fowler
January 20, 2021

On January 18th, the first division of the Seoul High Court sentenced the Samsung Chairman to two and a half years in prison on bribery charges at the 312th court.

In February 2018, that sentence was halved, and the Seoul High Court chose to suspend the jail term, meaning he was free to go.

The elder Lee died past year, leading to speculation that there would be a shake-up at Samsung as his heirs could be forced into asset sales or dividend payments to cover a massive inheritance tax bill.

Lee - who had earlier walked into court grim-faced and wearing a facemask, without responding to reporters' shouted questions - was immediately taken into custody. In August 2019, the Supreme Court of Korea found issue with the appeals court ruling and remanded the case to the appeals court for a retrial.

Yonhap reported that some Lee supporters protested against the ruling in the courtroom in tears.

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The de facto chief of South Korea's Samsung business empire was convicted Monday over a huge corruption scandal and jailed for two and a half years, in a ruling that deprives the tech giant of its top decision-maker.

That's right, the new verdict saw deliberations where "Lee, 52, was accused of offering horses and other payments to a friend of the former president to win support for his formal succession at the corporation", and has actually already been upheld by the Supreme Court, so some prison time for Lee seems inevitable now. His father Lee Kun-hee, the company's chairman, died a year ago after suffering a heart attack in 2014. The Supreme Court, however, ordered a retrial of Lee, overturning the high court's dismissal of key bribery convictions. With the Supreme Court's determination, the amount of bribes given by Lee totals around 8.6 billion won.

Lee will have to attend hearings in that case while serving his time in jail. According to a law on punishment for special economic crimes, any bribe 5 billion won or over warrants a prison sentence of three years or more. A prison term of more than three years can not be suspended. The Criminal Act, however, allows a judge to use his or her own discretion to reduce a prison term. Lee's legal troubles aren't over as he faces a separate trial over a controversial 2015 merger that helped him tighten control over the company. The court said Monday that it was inappropriate to slash his sentence because of the establishment of a corporate compliance committee.

With Lee returning to prison, the year he already served in detention is expected to count toward the sentence - leaving 18 months of his sentence to be served. The court also cut the amount of bribery and embezzlement attributed to Lee to 3.6 billion won.

Lee's absence means that Samsung will be run temporarily by professional executives.

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