The heir and de facto leader of the Samsung group has received presidential pardon, the latest example of a South Korean tradition of leniency towards large patrons convicted of corruption and other financial crimes.
Billionaire Lee Jae-yong, convicted of corruption and embezzlement last January, will be “reinstated” to “help overcome South Korea’s economic crisis,” said Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon.
Lee, 54, the 278th richest person in the world, according to Forbes, was released on parole in August 2021 after serving 18 months in prison, just over half of his original sentence. Today’s pardon will allow him to return to full employment, lifting the work ban that was imposed on him by the court for a period of five years after his prison sentence. “Due to the global economic crisis, the dynamism and vitality of the national economy have worsened and it is feared that the economic crisis will continue”, said the Ministry of Justice in a statement. The ministry hopes that the businessman can “drive the country’s growth engine by actively investing in technology and creating jobs”. Lee Jae-yong was pardoned along with three other businessmen, including Lotte group chairman Shin Dong-bin, who received a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence with a suspended sentence in a corruption case in 2018. Lee is the vice president of Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest smartphone maker. The conglomerate’s combined revenue is equivalent to one-fifth of South Korea’s gross domestic product. He’s been jailed for crimes related to a massive corruption scandal that brought down former President Park Geun-hye. It is not uncommon for leading South Korean tycoons to be accused of corruption, embezzlement, tax evasion or other illegal economic activities.