Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong acquitted of stock manipulation charges

What a surprise, said no one

Samsung chairman Lee Jae-yong was acquitted of stock manipulation charges related to a 2015 company merger in Seoul Central District Court on Monday.

Among the charges of which Lee was cleared are stock price rigging, breach of trust and accounting fraud – all related to Samsung's merger with Cheil Industries.

The judge reportedly cited inadmissible evidence and a failure to prove both intent on Lee’s part and that the misleading of shareholders as playing a part in the judgment.

"There is no proof of a crime in all the facts of this case," stated presiding Judge Park Je-jeong according to media.

Thirteen co-defendants – including key Samsung executives Choi Ji-sung, Jong-joong, and Jang Chung-ki – were also acquitted.

Warrants for Samsung execs in relation to the case were issued back in June 2020. Prosecutors argued the group had inflated the value of Samsung Biologics, a subsidiary of Cheil Industries, at $3.9 billion.

The merger was thought to secure Lee's succession as boss of Samsung. Lee also benefited financially as the company's largest shareholder, walking away with a 23.2 percent stake.

The charges were among many legal headaches Lee has faced since the 2014 death of his father, Lee Kun-hee, after which he became the de facto leader of the chaebol. The list of claims against him ranges from bribery to illicit use of an anesthetic.

In 2021, he was sentenced to 30 months for allegedly paying off former president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, and her confidant Choi Soon-sil in the hope of receiving favors.

Around seven months into the sentence, he was pardoned, with South Korea's Ministry of Justice making it clear his release was considered beneficial to South Korea's entire economy.

Samsung's fortunes are heavily intertwined with the South Korean economy, and the government has proven itself willing to bend to the chaebol – whether that's by letting Lee off the legal hook or by removing barriers to profits, like bans on smartphone subsidies.

Samsung has taken second place to Apple in worldwide smartphone shipments, while Intel has overtaken the Korean chip shop as the world's largest semiconductor chip firm for 2023.

With potential jail time no longer threatening, Lee is now expected to exercise stronger leadership of the family business. ®

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