World

Samsung scion Lee freed as S Korea court suspends jail term

Seoul High Court reduces original term of 5 years on appeal

SEOUL A South Korean appeals court yesterday suspended a jail sentence handed down to Samsung Group heir Jay Y. Lee, setting him free after a year's detention amid a corruption scandal that brought down the former president.

Seoul High Court jailed Mr Lee for two and a half years, reducing the original term by half, and suspended the sentence for charges including bribery and embezzlement, meaning he does not have to serve time.

Mr Lee, 49, heir to one of the world's biggest corporate empires, had been detained since last February.

President Park Geun-hye was dismissed in March after being impeached in a case that brought scrutiny to the nature of the ties between South Korea's chaebols - big family-owned corporate groups - and its political leaders.

Park is standing trial accused of bribery, abuse of power and coercion.

A lower court in August convicted Lee of bribing Park for help in strengthening his control of Samsung Electronics, the crown jewel of the country's largest conglomerate and one of the world's biggest technology companies, as well as embezzlement and other charges.

The court said Samsung's financial support for entities backed by a friend of Park's, Choi Soon Sil, constituted bribery, including 7.2 billion won ($6.4 million) to sponsor the equestrian career of Choi's daughter.

Presiding senior judge Cheong Hyung Sik yesterday called the nature of Lee's involvement in Samsung's monetary support for Choi a "passive compliance to political power".

Prosecutors had sought a 12-year jail term for Mr Lee. The ruling is expected to be appealed again to the Supreme Court, legal experts said.

STIGMA

With the end of his year-long detention, Lee could continue with his existing roles, including director of Samsung Electronics. However, he has been found guilty of some lesser charges and is prohibited from travelling outside South Korea without a judge's approval.

But although he was set free by the appeals court, the stigma may stick, lawyers say.

"Public opinion will get riled up and people will keep thinking there was some quid pro quo between Samsung's Lee and the president," said Mr Lee Jung-jae, a lawyer. - REUTERS

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