Respecting the rulingSamsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, who had been behind bars for nearly a year, was released from prison after an appeals court cut his five-year sentence to two and a half years with a four-year probation on Monday. Other Samsung executives were also given weaker sentences.
The Seoul High Court reversed most criminal charges filed by the special counsel team. Lee was found guilty of bribery for sponsoring equestrian training for the daughter of Choi Soon-sil, a confidante of former President Park Geun-hye. Only 3.6 billion won ($3.3 million) of 7.6 billion won claimed by special prosecutors was determined suspicious. The court concluded that Samsung lent the horse instead of buying it for Chung Yoo-ra, Choi’s daughter. Lee was acquitted of other charges — bribery for donations to a sports center ran by a relative of Choi and embezzlement, as well as hiding assets.
Although Samsung’s money went to Choi, the bench concluded that the business group did so because it could not turn down the president’s request. Judges did not discover implicit or explicit evidence pointing to Lee giving the money in return for favors. The court also concluded that the 3.6 billion won had not been intended to gain government support for corporate mergers to aid Lee’s succession.
Most would agree that a business tycoon could not have outright rejected a president’s request for funding a certain individual or organization. The special counsel team’s accusation that a businessman tried to strike a bargain with the president had been excessive. Many believed that the special counsel was too eager to add additional charges of embezzlement to stretch the jail term for Lee to 12 years even when a court turned down its request to detain Lee behind bars.
The appeals court made it clear that Lee and other Samsung executives had committed a crime of complying with the president and her friend’s request. Upon release, Lee apologized for having set a poor example. He said the last year had been a valuable experience for him to look back on himself and his life. He should be true to his words through exercising transparent management.
Lee has been behind bars for nearly a year. Until the final trial at the Supreme Court, prosecutors must respect that Lee is a free man. The head judge is now being accused of being bribed by Samsung to free the heir, but such claims seriously underestimate and defame our judiciary system.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 6, Page 33