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Samsung leader Lee Jae-yong released on parole

August 13, 2021

South Korean politicians and business leaders have called for billionaire Lee Jae-yong to be paroled following a highly publicized bribery conviction. He is likely to return to Samsung soon.

Samsung leader paroled Samsung Electronics Co. Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong leaves Seoul Detention Center in Uiwang
Samsung boss Lee Jae-yong offered a public apology as he left a detention center in Uiwang, near SeoulImage: YNA/Yonhap/picture alliance

The de facto leader of the Samsung group Lee Jae-yong, convicted of bribery and embezzlement, was released on parole on Friday.

Lee — the 202nd richest person in the world according to Forbes — was serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for crimes related to an explosive corruption scandal that brought down South Korea's former president Park Geun-hye. 

"I've caused much concern for the people. I deeply apologize," he told reporters outside the Seoul Detention Center upon his release. "I am listening to the concerns, criticisms, worries, and high expectations for me. I will work hard."

While Lee still has a year left on his sentence, there had been growing calls for his early release from politicians as well as business leaders who claim his imprisonment was holding up key strategic decisions at South Korea's largest conglomerate.

The country's justice ministry announced on Monday that Lee had been paroled, along with around 800 others, citing the impact of the pandemic on the economy.

The Samsung scion will still need the ministry's permission to resume work, but that is expected to be a formality.

Impact on Samsung's operations

Although Lee's absence has not affected day-to-day operations at Samsung, company sources told news agency Reuters that decisions on major investment and mergers and acquisitions (M & M&A) projects should only be made by him.

One of the decisions that had been on hold during his absence was on the location of a $17 billion (€14,5 billion) US plant to produce advanced logic chips.

This comes at a time when there is a global chip shortage and rivals like TSMC and Intel Corp are making large investments.

The Samsung group is by far the largest of family-controlled empires, known as chaebols in South Korea, the world's 12th largest economy.

The company's flagship subsidiary Samsung Electronics is the world's largest smartphone maker.

Timeline of the case

2017: Lee was first jailed after Park's impeachment for offering millions of dollars in bribes to the president and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. He served one year of his five-year term.

2018: He walked free when an appeals court dismissed most of his bribery convictions and gave him a suspended sentence.

2019: The country's Supreme Court ordered Lee to face a retrial.

2020: A Seoul court ruled Lee should not be jailed during his trial

2021: Lee Jae-yong was convicted and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for bribery and embezzlement.

Meanwhile, former president Park was convicted for receiving or demanding more than $20 million from conglomerates, sharing secret state documents, blacklisting artists critical of her policies, and firing officials who resisted her abuses of power. She is currently serving prison terms of 22 years.

adi/dj (AFP, Reuters)