South Korea pardons Samsung boss ‘to help economy’

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Seoul (AFP) – The Samsung Group’s successor and de facto leader received a presidential pardon on Friday. This is the latest example of South Korea’s long tradition of freeing business leaders convicted of corruption on economic grounds.

Attorney General Han Dong-hoon said billionaire Lee Jae-young, who was convicted of bribery and embezzlement in January last year, will be given the chance to “return to work” and “contribute to overcoming the economic crisis” of the country. .

The 278th richest person in the world, according to Forbes, with a net worth of $7.9 billion, Lee was released on parole in August 2021 after serving 18 months in prison.

Friday’s pardon lifts post-prison employment restrictions that had been in place for five years, allowing him to return to work full time.

The Ministry of Justice said in a statement, “The global economic crisis has reduced the vitality and vitality of the domestic economy, and there is a risk of a prolonged economic slump.

Lee, 54, was pardoned along with three other businessmen, including Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dongbin, who was sentenced to two and a half years in prison with a suspended sentence in a bribery case in 2018.

A total of 1,693 people were on the amnesty list ahead of Monday’s annual Liberation Day, the ministry said.

The anniversary, which commemorates Japan’s surrender in World War II in 1945 and the liberation of Korea from decades of colonial rule, typically grants amnesty to hundreds of prisoners each year. celebrating.

above the law?

Lee is the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest smartphone maker. The conglomerate’s total turnover is equivalent to about one-fifth of South Korea’s gross domestic product.

He was jailed for crimes related to the massive corruption scandal that overthrew former President Park Geun-hye.

There is a long history of South Korean business tycoons prosecuted for bribery, embezzlement, tax evasion, and other crimes.

However, many of those convicted have since had their sentences reduced or suspended on appeals, including former Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee, who was convicted twice. Some have been pardoned by the president in recognition of their “contribution to

The giant Samsung Group is by far the largest of the family-owned empires known as the chaebols that control business in South Korea, the world’s 12th largest economy.

President Yoon Seok-yeol said Friday that the amnesty is aimed at improving many of the “ordinary people affected by the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic”.

“I hope this special amnesty will be an opportunity for all Koreans to work together to overcome the economic crisis,” he added.

But analysts say the amnesty only allowed leading businessmen to feel “not bound by any legal norms,” ​​Oslo University professor Vladimir Tikhonov told AFP.

“And governments are more or less doing their bidding, creating the conditions for capital accumulation by businesses,” he added.

more legal issues

Lee faces a separate trial over accounting fraud charges related to the 2015 merger of two Samsung companies.

In May, when he began his tour of South Korea by visiting a Samsung chip factory with Yoon, he was exempted from hearings in that trial, which hosts President Joe Biden.

His pardon makes him a frontrunner in fields ranging from semiconductors to biologics, and a massive 450 trillion won ($356 billion) investment plan over the next five years aimed at creating 80,000 new jobs. Following Samsung’s announcement of the

The company also employs approximately 20,000 people in the United States and has work underway to build a new semiconductor fab in Texas, scheduled to open in 2024.

But Lee’s imprisonment hasn’t hurt the company’s performance. The company said last July that its second-quarter profit surged by more than 70%, and the shift to remote work due to the coronavirus has boosted demand for devices using the company’s memory chips.

“Samsung worked perfectly without mercy,” Tikhonov told AFP.

“Amnesties weaken the rule of law and may actually do more harm than good to the operation of a market-based economy.”

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