Samsung's de facto leader receives presidential pardon in bribery case
Lee Jay-yong a.k.a Jay Y. Lee, Samsung Electronics' vice-chairman and de facto leader, will receive a presidential pardon, said South Korea's Ministry of Justice. The business tycoon who was convicted of bribing the country's former president will have his criminal record from 2017 wiped clean. The pardon will fall on South Korea's Liberation Day on August 15.
Why does this story matter?
An economic crisis is a perfect excuse for governments to legitimize drastic steps. The South Korean government has done the same as they decided to pardon Samsung's billionaire de facto leader Jae-yong. The pardon will most probably embolden Samsung in its future endeavors and in turn, help South Korea. However, this raises the question, are the ultra-rich above the law?
Jae-yong bribed former president Park Guen-Hye
Jae-yong's crimes were directly connected to the ouster of former president Park Geun-hye (2013-2017). He paid $8 million in bribes to the president and her associate to secure support for a merger opposed by shareholders. Jae-yong was imprisoned in 2017 for five years. In January 2021, upon retrial, a high court reduced his sentence to two years and six months.
South Korea decided to pardon Lee to tackle economic crisis
The pardon granted to Jae-yong is more symbolic than anything, as he has been on parole since August 2021. His pardon is related to the country's growing economic struggles. Justice Minister Hang Dong Hoon said, "With urgent needs to overcome the national economic crisis, we selected economic leaders who lead the national growth engine through active technology investment and job creation to be pardoned."
The Korean public has supported the move
Although Jae-yong has been on parole, his release came with restrictions such as a five-year employment ban and limits on overseas travels. Analysts believe that he will take on a more active management role after the pardon. South Korean public has largely supported pardoning the Samsung scion. A recent poll showed that 77% were in favor of the move.
Is president Yoon Suk-yeol embracing populism at last?
The decision to pardon Jae-yong, the 278th richest person in the world, is a rare populist move by South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol. Other prominent business leaders, including Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin, also received pardons. The president's approval rating has been on a slide recently and the move to pardon business leaders is to put a break on that.
Civil rights groups criticized the president's decision
The decision to pardon Jae-yong and other businessmen received mixed reactions from different groups. The Korea Enterprises Federation and other big businesses welcomed the move. On the other hand, civil rights groups criticized the government's decision to pardon businessmen. "The Yoon Suk-yeol administration... is ultimately just aiming for a country only for the rich," said People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.
Jae-yong is yet to face a trial on accounting frauds
A pardon for the 2017 conviction does not spell the end of legal troubles for Jae-yong. He still faces a trial over accusations of accounting fraud in 2015 regarding the merger of two Samsung firms. Industry experts think that the pardon will let Samsung pursue more mergers or bold investments. Others think that Samsung may not reinstate Jae-yong that quickly fearing public backlash.
Americans have been lobbying for Jae-yong's release for a while
Several business groups have been lobbying to free Jae-yong. In 2021, Financial Times reported that US companies too lobbied to get the Samsung heir pardoned. Considering the semiconductor scarcity and Samsung's commitment to invest billions of dollars in semiconductors, the pardon was bound to happen sooner than later. "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to start anew," Jae-yong said in a statement.Share this timeline