South Korea court acquits Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong of financial crimes

Lee Jae-yong arrives for questioning in Seoul on February 13, 2017 [Jung Yeon-Je/Pool via Reuters]Published On 5 Feb 20245 Feb 2024

A court in South Korea has acquitted Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong of financial crimes regarding a 2015 merger.

The Seoul Central District Court ruled on Monday that Lee is not guilty of stock price manipulation and accounting fraud. The case was the latest episode in an ongoing scandal, centred on control of the country’s largest company and involving high-level corruption, that has rocked South Korea.

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Prosecutors had claimed that the conditions of the 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates – Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries – were designed to allow Lee to tighten his hold over the company.

However, the court said the prosecution failed to prove that the merger was unlawfully conducted with the aim of smoothing out a succession issue.

Prosecutors had sought a five-year jail term. They have not yet said whether they will appeal the ruling.

Lee had denied wrongdoing, saying the merger was part of “normal business activity”.

Succession

The scandal has been rocking South Korean society for years.

In 2017, Lee was convicted of bribing the president to ease his inheritance of the Samsung empire from his father, Lee Kun-hee, who was hospitalised following a heart attack in 2014 and died in 2020.

He was sentenced to five years in prison for offering bribes worth 8.6 billion won ($6.4m) to former President Park Geun-hye and her close confidante to win government support.

However, the sentence was later lowered to 30 months. He was then released in mid-2021, with the justice department reporting that it had considered a variety of factors like public sentiment and good behaviour during detention.

“It is very unfortunate that Samsung, the country’s top company and proud global innovator, is repeatedly involved in crimes whenever there is a change in political power,” the court had said at the time of his conviction.

The case brought down Park’s government in 2016, with the president being sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined 18 billion won ($14m).

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies