International desk – The de facto chief of the Samsung business empire, Lee Jae-yong, has been sentenced to five years in jail as he was found guilty of bribery and other corruption charges, officials said.
A South Korean court pronounced the shorter jail term to the billionaire son of Samsung’s ailing chairman although the prosecution sought 12 years imprisonment for his corruption.
CNN reported that the criminal conviction is a blow for Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker and South Korea’s biggest family-run conglomerate whose businesses are estimated to account for around 15 per cent of the country’s entire economy.
The so-called “trial of the century” has gripped South Korea for months.
It’s part of a huge influence-peddling scandal that brought down the government of former President Park Geun-hye.
Wearing a navy suit and holding a manila envelope, Lee remained seated and silent as the judge read out the verdict, the broadcaster reported.
He was found guilty of bribing Park in exchange for government support for a merger that helped him tighten control over Samsung. The 49-year-old executive, who is also known as Jay Y. Lee, has been the de facto leader of Samsung since his ailing father was left incapacitated by a 2014 heart attack.
The court also found Lee guilty of perjury, concealing criminal profits, embezzlement and hiding assets overseas.
Lee has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyers said Friday they reject the court’s decision and will appeal immediately.
Prosecutors presented Lee as a savvy tycoon who knew exactly what he was doing when Samsung paid tens of millions of dollars to entities linked to a confidante of Park in order to win government backing for the key merger.
The conviction caps a rocky 12 months for Samsung, beginning with the embarrassing fiasco over its fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 smartphone last fall.
Lee is following in the footsteps of many other chiefs of South Korea’s big family-run conglomerates, known as chaebol. His father, Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee, was twice sentenced to prison — and twice pardoned.
Newly elected President Moon Jae-in campaigned as a “clean” candidate, promising to crack down on the power of the chaebol. The question is whether he’ll eventually pardon Lee.
On his first trip to the U.S. earlier this year, Moon was accompanied by about 50 South Korean business leaders, including executives from Samsung and other major conglomerates.
Moon’s administration “is just going to work with these companies,” Kang said. “So how different is it really going to be?”
Four other former Samsung executives were also found guilty of bribery and other corruption charges at the trial on Friday, receiving prison sentences ranging from two and a half to four years. Two of them had their sentences suspended.
They are also all appealing their convictions, according to CNN.