You may remember that towards the end of last year, Lee Jae-yong, the big name at Samsung, was sentenced to five years in prison following his conviction on bribery and embezzlement charges.
Many had thought that this was a sign that the days of people at the top powerful South Korean companies being able to escape punishment for crimes were numbered, but alas, that does not appear to be the case. On Monday, Samsung’s head was freed from prison after an appeals court reduced and suspended his sentence.
Having pleaded not guilty to all of the charges put before him last year, Lee spent less than twelve months of his term behind bars. He was released after the appeals court reduced his original sentence to 36 months and then suspended that for a full four years, meaning he could walk out of jail. This came after the court found Lee guilty of one bribery charge – another was overturned – but not of hiding money offshore.
For those unfamiliar with the case, the story had Lee allegedly involved in millions of dollars of payments and gifts that were aimed at persuading then-South Korean President Park Guen-hye and her mentor Choi Soon-sil to influence the National Pension Service to approve a merger that Samsung was going through at the time. According to those prosecuting the case, one of those bribes included an almost $1 million horse for Soon-sil’s daughter. The merger was ultimately approved, ensuring Lee’s power.
“South Korea goes notoriously light on white collar crime,” Geoffrey Cain, the author of an upcoming book on Samsung, told CNN during an interview, going on to say that “there were hopes that things were improving during the first trial, when [Lee] got five years.”
That, fortunately for Lee, was not the case.
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