On Monday, Lee Jae-yong, the billionaire leader of Samsung was granted parole, eight months after being sent back to prison, according to the Financial Times. He had been charged with bribing former president Park Guen-hye in order to gain control of Samsung Electronics, the leading division in the group. He will be a free man on Friday and his early parole has led to mixed reactions among South Koreans.
The Samsung chief had been sentenced to two-and-a half years in prison and officials said that he became eligible for parole as he had completed 60 percent of his term. He has been released as per South Korean tradition of marking the nation’s anniversary of the end of Japan’s brutal rule. This reprieve has once again brought into focus the relationship between powerful chaebol corporations and President Moon Jae-in’s government.
President Moon had promised to bring chaebol leaders such as Samsung in line, but this recent parole has undermined her promise. A chaebol in South Korea refers to a large family-owned business conglomerate. Many of chaebol leaders including Samsung have functioned with aplomb with scant disregard to the nation’s law and this has disappointed many South Koreans, including economists who had seen the prison term as a first step in chaebol reforms.
However, reportedly a larger section of the population, who are said to own shares in Samsung, are currently happy with his proposed release as they believe that the country’s most important leader of its crown jewel the Samsung group remaining in prison could damage the economy of the nation. U.S. companies had also lobbied for his release.
Although Jay Y. Lee, as he is known in the West, has succeeded in meeting the challenges of the bribery scandal and has obtained parole, he faces other legal challenges.
On Thursday, he has to appear at a Seoul district court to face proceedings over allegations of accounting fraud to a tune of $3.9 billion at the conglomerate’s biopharmaceutical unit. The Samsung head and the company deny any wrongdoing on their part.
The Lee family including the 53-year-old vice chairman and billionaire heir and his two sisters have to also pay inheritance taxes of $11 billion over a period of five years.