South Korea pardons Samsung’s Lee, other big companies

Seoul, South Korea — South Korean president will formally pardon Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong, a year after he was paroled from jail for bribing former president Park Geun-hye as part of massive corruption scandal that toppled Park’s government , the justice minister announced on Friday. .

Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin and two other top business leaders will also be pardoned, extending South Korea’s history of leniency towards convicted business magnates and major white-collar crime. They are among the roughly 1,700 people to be pardoned by President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday, a national holiday honoring Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II.

The pardon of Lee, who was paroled in August 2021 with one year left on his 30-month term, underscores Samsung’s massive influence over a country that relies on its technology exports. He was convicted of bribing Park and her closest confidant, both of whom were sentenced to extended prison terms, to gain government support for a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates that tightened Lee’s control over the corporate empire.

Lotte’s Shin was given a suspended prison sentence in 2018 on similar bribery charges against Park, who pardoned then-President Moon Jae-in in December. Other business leaders to be pardoned include Chang Sae-joo, chairman of Dongkuk Steel Mill, and former STX Group chairman Kang Duk-soo.

Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon said the business magnates’ pardons were aimed at “overcoming the economic crisis by boosting business activity”. Yoon previously told reporters that his grace could help create “breathing room” for struggling with household livelihoods. Lee, 54, heads the Samsung group in his capacity as vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, one of the world’s largest makers of computer memory chips and smartphones. He was released by Moon’s government, which went on to defend its decision over unspecified concerns related to the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In a statement released via Samsung, Lee said he expresses his sincere gratitude for “being given a chance to start over.”

“I want to apologize for causing concern to many people because of my shortcomings. I will work even harder to fulfill my responsibilities and duties as an entrepreneur,” Lee said.

Lee is still facing a separate lawsuit on charges of stock price manipulation and audit violations related to the 2015 merger.

A coalition of civil society groups, including People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, in a statement criticized Yoon’s move to pardon Lee Jae-yong and the other business magnates, accusing him of dealing with “chaebol,” referring to the family businesses that dominate the country’s economy.

“President Yoon Suk Yeol’s (to business magnates) sell-off sends a signal to the chaebol chiefs that they are free to commit any crimes they please,” the groups said.

But recent polls have found that South Koreans — years away from the raging protests in late 2016 and 2017 that ousted Park from office — largely favored pardoning Lee, reflecting Samsung’s influence in a country where it is smartphones, TVs and credit cards. use, the apartments they live in and the hospitals where they are born or die.

Business leaders and politicians had also asked for Lee’s clemency, which they said would allow Samsung to make bolder and faster business decisions by fully restoring its rights to run the business empire. South Korean law prohibits people convicted of major financial crimes from returning to work for five years after their sentence ends.

Critics say Lee has always been in control of Samsung, even while behind bars, and almost fully resumed his management duties after his parole. Former Attorney General Park Beom-kye, who served under the Moon government, had defended Lee’s involvement with Samsung’s management after his parole, claiming that his activities did not violate the five-year ban because the heir of the billionaire did not receive a wage from Samsung.

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Park Geun-hye was convicted of a wide variety of corruption charges, including colluding with her longtime confidant, Choi Soon-sil, to take millions of dollars in bribes and extortion from Samsung and other major corporations while in office.

She risked more than two decades in prison before Moon pardoned her in December, citing the need to promote unity in the politically divided nation. Choi remains in prison. Chang was paroled in 2018 with about six months left on a 3 1/2-year sentence on charges of embezzling millions of dollars in corporate funds and using some of it to gamble in Las Vegas.

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

One notable exclusion from Yoon’s pardon was former President Lee Myung-bak, who was temporarily released from a 17-year prison sentence in June over his own string of corruption charges after prosecutors acknowledged his health problems.

Han said the government did not take into account the pardons of convicted politicians or government employees this time, and said the focus was on the economy.

Lee, a CEO who became a conservative hero before falling out of favor, was convicted of taking bribes from major corporations, including Samsung, embezzling money from a company he owned, and other corruption-related crimes before and during his presidency of 2008 to 2013.

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