One of South Korea’s most powerful white collar criminal, Lee Jae-yong, the heir to South Korean giant conglomerate, Samsung has been granted a special presidential pardon.
Lee was convicted twice and imprisoned for bribing a former president. His crimes were directly tied up in the corruption scandal that led to the imprisonment of former president Park Geun-Hye, who presided over the technology savy country between 2013-2017.
South Korea’s government justified the move, saying the de-facto leader of the country’s biggest company was needed back at the helm to spearhead economic recovery post-pandemic.
The Samsung leader paid $8 million in bribes to President Park and her associate to secure support for a merger opposed by shareholders that would shore up his control of his family’s empire.
President Park was impeached by Korea’s parliament over the scandal and she was sentenced to jail in 2017 for 25 years.
A year later, Lee was jailed for 5 years for offences including embezzling company funds to buy a $800,000 horse for the daughter of the president’s friend. He has only served a few months in jail, as he had been released by an appeal court, and retried on orders of a higher court.
President Park’s successor, President Moon Jae-In who was swept into office with a mandate to clean up the corruption mess, ended up pardoning President Park in 2021.
Eight months after President Park’s pardon, 54-years old Lee Jae-Young is being pardoned to return to the helms of affairs at Samsung to help the country’s economic recovery.
In Korea, giant conglomerates dominate the economy, with the top 10 accounting for about 80% of GDP. Known as chaebols, they are family-controlled empires which provide a span of services. LG, Hyundai, Lotte, and SK are among them.
Samsung is the biggest and most powerful of them all. While it’s known globally for its electronic brands, the world’s biggest smart phone maker does much more than that in South Korea. It has hospitals, insurance plans, billboards, shipyard and even theme parks.
Mr Lee’s own father, Lee Kun-hee was convicted of bribery and fraud in the 1990s when he was Samsung chairman. But he didn’t serve a single day of jail time.
Lee still faces criminal allegations – of rigging company valuations, accounting fraud and making Samsung business decisions in breach of his sentence conditions. Clemency means he will be able to fully resume his executive responsibilities.
Nnamdi Maduakor is a Writer, Investor and Entrepreneur