World

Samsung heir jailed 
5 years for corruption

Lee Jae Yong's conviction strong indicator of outcome in Park Geun Hye's trial

SEOUL: The 49-year-old heir to the Samsung business empire was yesterday sentenced to five years in prison for bribery and other offences in connection with the scandal that brought down then South Korean president Park Geun Hye.

Lee Jae Yong's penalty could leave the company rudderless for years and hamper its ability to make investment decisions.

But Samsung appears to have been unaffected by his absence so far - he has been detained since February - with subsidiary Samsung Electronics making record profits on the back of strong demand for its chips.

The vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics arrived at Seoul Central District Court on a justice ministry bus handcuffed, bound with white rope around his jacket, and holding an envelope of documents.

Lee was found guilty of bribery, embezzlement, perjury and other charges centred on payments and promises by Samsung totalling 43.3 billion won (S$52 million) to Park's secret confidante Choi Soon Sil.

The court found the money was in return for policy favours, including government support for Lee's hereditary succession, after his father was left bedridden by a heart attack in 2014.

The defence denied the charges, saying Samsung was pressured by Park to make the donations under duress - and that Lee was not aware of them and did not approve them.

Four other Samsung executives were also convicted and received sentences of up to four years.

Those who protested against Park last year also targeted Lee and other chiefs of the chaebols, the family-controlled conglomerates.

COURTROOM 417

The court was deluged with hundreds of applications for the 30 seats in courtroom 417 available to members of the public, which were allocated by lottery.

Park's trial began in the room in May, and it also saw Lee's father Kun Hee convicted of tax and other offences in 2008, receiving a suspended sentence.

The verdict could add impetus to President Moon Jae-In's campaign pledges to reform the chaebols. The companies have long had murky connections with the authorities in South Korea, and past trials of their leaders have often ended with light or suspended sentences.

The Lee clan owns about 5 per cent of Samsung Electronics shares, but maintains its grip on the wider group through a web of cross-ownership stakes.

The court said Park was aware that Lee wanted state approval for a controversial merger of two Samsung units in 2015.

The deal was opposed by shareholders who said it wilfully undervalued shares of one of the firms. It eventually went through after the national pension fund - a major Samsung shareholder - approved it.

The ruling is seen as a strong indicator of the likely outcome in Park's trial, as some charges against her are linked to the accusations Lee faced. - AFP

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