February 05, 2018 17:17
An appeals court on Monday overturned a five-year prison sentence for Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong and gave him a suspended sentence instead.
The Seoul High Court sentenced Lee to two-and-a-half years in jail for corruption suspended for four years. Former Samsung executives Choi Ji-sung and Jang Chung-gi were also both given suspended sentences.
The court accepted that Samsung bribed ex-President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil but said there is insufficient evidence that Lee actively sought favors from them. It added there was insufficient proof that the billions Samsung gave to Park and Choi by various avenues all constituted straight-up bribes.
Among seven charges relating to about W433 billion, it only upheld the bribery charge for a W36 billion payment for Choi's daughter's equestrian training in Germany (US$1=W1,085). It also cleared Lee of a technical charge of hiding assets overseas in relation to the payment.
In reducing the sentence, it took into consideration that it would have been difficult for Lee to resist extortion from the two women and that he has no criminal record.
Park earlier submitted a handwritten letter to the court claiming that she neither received a request for favors from Lee nor asked him to help Choi and her daughter.
The ruling will help Samsung recover from its leadership vacuum and bruised corporate image, but it repeats a pattern of Korean corporate bigwigs being let off on appeal no matter how egregious the corruption allegations against them.
Samsung posted record earnings during Lee's imprisonment thanks to its memory chip business, though it faces intense challenges from Chinese competitors.
Lee had been incarcerated for almost a year since he was indicted.
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