Samsung heir pardoned after doing time for bribery

Government said they need the Samsung boss back at work to deal with South Korea’s looming economic crisis

South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol issued a widely anticipated pardon for Samsung heir and vice chairman Lee Jae-yong that came into effect today.

Lee was already out of jail on parole after spending 18 months in prison on bribery charges. The true value in the pardon lies in permission for Lee to engage in business activities at a time when South Korea faces COVID-related economic challenges.

"In order to overcome the economic crisis through economic revitalization, we will reinstate Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jae-yong, who recently ended his sentence execution," states machine translation of a government announcement issued last Friday.

Conditions of Lee's parole reportedly included five years of restrictions on his business activities. The pardon relegates those limits to the past.

Lee's pardon was announced along with clemency for 1,693 others, to mark South Korea's Independence Day – a day on which the president traditionally offers leniency to business leaders and others. The clemency was foreshadowed in late July, when prime minister Han Duck-soo said in parliament he would recommend the action.

Lee became the head of Samsung after his father, Lee Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack in 2014. The elder Lee died in 2020. The younger Lee retained his title of vice-chairman throughout his incarceration.

Lee's legal troubles don't end with charges of offering $38 million in bribes to people and companies adjacent to president Park Geun-hye in 2017. Over the years he has also run into trouble over alleged false reporting of his Samsung shareholdings, accounting fraud, and drug abuse related to the anaesthetic Propofol.

But none of that really matters when Q2 PC sales are slumping and there is fear reduced sales might spread to enterprise segments, damaging South Korea's economy along the way. Although Samsung's memory business was strong and server demand was high for the company's most recent quarter – and expected to remain so – Samsung's large panel, Mobile eXperience, and Visual Display businesses all struggled. The volatile global smartphone market also concerns observers.

According to the intergovernmental org and statistical agency Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), South Korea had a strong rebound in 2021 that led to slowed GDP growth in the first quarter of 2022. Growth for 2023 is expected to slow from 2022, but only from 2.7 percent to 2.5 percent.

Those factors and statistics mean the South Korean public largely approves of the pardon. According to a National Barometer Survey poll taken in late July this year, 77 percent of respondents approved – even as last summer 130 civic groups gathered to oppose such motions.

But Lee has reportedly been involved in the company's affairs since his release from prison, actions that have been dismissed by some as inconsequential as he allegedly did not receive pay for his labor.

"I want to express my apologies for causing concerns for many people because of my shortcomings. I will work even harder to fulfil my responsibilities and duties as a businessperson," said Lee, in a statement released via Samsung regarding the pardon. ®

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