Samsung heir jailed for five years on corruption charge

James Pearce
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South Korean court found Samsung's vice chairman Lee Jae-yong guilty of a number of offences, including bribery, embezzlement, and perjury

The heir to the Samsung empire has been sentenced to five years in jail after a South Korean court found Lee Jae-yong guilty of corruption.

Lee, who is vice-chairman and de facto head of the technology giant, was convicted of a number of offences, including bribery, embezzlement, and perjury in a significant case for the country.

He stood accused of offering millions of dollars to former president Park Geun-hye, who is currently undergoing her own trial, and business partner Choi Soon-sil, in exchange for favourable businesss conditions.

Prosecutors had claimed the bribes were used to help Samsung push through a merger of two affiliates, a move that had been criticised by some shareholders. He was also convicted of embezzlement, lying to parliament under oath, and of hiding assets overseas.

 “This is a case where political power and business power colluded immorally. It won’t be easy for the public to regain trust in our institutions as these corrupt ties between the president and big conglomerates are still present, not something that happened in the past,” said judge Kim Jin-dong, according to reports in Korea. 

“Especially, as the defendants are the representatives of Samsung Group, the negative impact that this case has on our society and economy is very big.”

Lawyers for Lee have pledged to appeal against the verdict, which creates questions about his future with Samsung, which he was expected to take over from father Lee Kun-hee, who is son of founder Lee Byung-chul. The elder Lee has taken a step back from the company since suffering a heart attack in 2014, with his son expected to take control.

It is a significant setback for the world’s leading smartphone-maker, which also saw two other executives, Choi Gee-sung and Jang Choong-ki, sentenced to four years in jail as part of the same trial.