Samsung heir Lee says spent year in jail on self-reflection

2018 captures Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong arriving at the Seoul High Court to attend his appeals trial over bribery in connection with a scandal that removed former President Park Geun-hye from office last year

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong gave a rare smile to photographers outside Seoul High Court Monday, as he walked free just months into a five-year prison sentence handed down last August.

The heir-apparent was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison with four years of probation at sentencing at the appeal trials that began in October. The Seoul court had also found him guilty of hiding assets overseas, embezzlement and perjury.

Shares in the flagship Samsung Electronics, where Lee is Vice-Chairman reversed earlier losses and closed up 0.5 per cent, compared to a 1.3 per cent fall in the wider market. Samsung accounts for a considerable part of the South Korean economy. The lower court had said Lee embezzled that amount from Samsung to bribe a confidante of Park's.

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But in October, a wave of top Samsung Electronics executives stepped down, moves that may have been meant to put pressure on the system to help the company avoid a leadership vacuum. The 49-year-old heir to the largest conglomerates in South Korea is the son of Lee Kun-he, chairman of Samsung Group and the grandson of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul. Prosecutors originally sought a dozen years for Lee, arguing that would help establish the rule of law in a country re-examining ties between government and business.

Lee's time away hasn't affected Samsung's bottom line.

Lee's verdict marked the first member of the family to be convicted and jailed, which had made citizens hopeful of the government to crackdown on corporations. In addition to their business role, they support sports teams and art and culture centers, provide generous advertising budgets to media and even contribute to national events such as Olympiads.

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The minor progressive Justice Party said the high court adhered to the saying that a rich person is innocent, noting that the ruling will be acceptable to nobody in South Korea.

More broadly, in Korea, Lee's trial marked somewhat of a litmus test for how the country's family-founded conglomerates would fare under new president Moon Jae-in. The scandal outraged many citizens because Park had taken bribes and donations from Lee in return for political favors to secure his leadership position in the company. "If we were to succeed in reforming the running of the chaebols and also increasing transparency, I believe this will not only help the economic power of Korea but also help to make the chaebols themselves more competitive".

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Bajaj Auto (4.90%), Bharti Airtel (4.62%), Axis Bank (4.28%) and Maruti Suzuki India (4.28%) were the top losers. The BSE Sensex was down by over 500 points at 10:55 am on Friday while NSE was 153 points down at 10,863.

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