Samsung boss to be freed from jail after bribery sentence

Billionaire Lee Jae-yong will be released in South Korea on Friday having served 18 months in prison

The billionaire boss of South Korea’s Samsung empire will be freed from jail on Friday after serving part of a 30-month sentence for bribing former South Korea president Park Geun-hye.

Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s vice-chairman and de facto leader, will be released on 13 August, the country’s justice minister announced in a live TV briefing.

Lee was caught up in a huge corruption scandal that brought down the government Park in 2016. Park was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined 18bn won (£12m).

Lee, 53, has served 18 months of a revised 30-month sentence. He initially served one year of a five-year sentence from August 2017, which was later suspended. That court decision was then overturned and while the sentence was shortened, he was sent back to jail in January this year.

“The decision to grant [the] Samsung Electronics vice-chairman … parole was the result of a comprehensive review of various factors such as public sentiment and good behaviour during detention,” the ministry said in a statement on Monday.

He is among 810 other prisoners who have been granted parole on the occasion of the country’s Liberation Day, which marks the liberation of Korea from Japanese imperial rule in 1945. Last year, more than 600 prisoners were released on Liberation Day.

Support for his parole, both political and public and from the wider business community, had grown amid anxiety that key strategic decisions are not being made at the South Korean tech giant.

The Federation of Korean Industries, a big business lobby, welcomed the decision to grant Lee parole. “If the investment clock, currently at standstill, is not wound up quickly, we could lag behind global companies such as Intel and TSMC and lose the Korean economy’s bread and butter at a moment’s notice,” it said.

Lee still needs the justice minister to approve his return to work as the law bars persons with certain convictions from working for companies related to those convictions for five years.

The scandal, which rocked South Korean society, was sparked by Lee’s attempts to persuade the government to ease the succession of the Samsung empire from his father Lee Kun-hee, who was hospitalised following a heart attack in 2014 and died last year.

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The court ruled that Lee “actively provided bribes and implicitly asked the president to use her power to help his smooth succession”.

“It is very unfortunate that Samsung, the country’s top company and proud global innovator, is repeatedly involved in crimes whenever there is a change in political power.”

Earlier this year the family said they would pay more than 12tn won (£7.8bn) in inheritance tax and donate his collection of more than 23,000 artworks – including pieces by Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and one of Claude Monet’s water lilies paintings – to South Korean national museums.

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Rupert Neate

The GuardianTramp

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