Samsung Electronic Co Ltd Vice Chairman, Jay Y. Lee was freed from prison after the appellate level court in South Korea suspended his sentencing for the bribery scandal. The decision ruled in the Seoul High Court raises many questions and concerns regarding political and corporation power.
Lee was held for almost a year without bail before being released on Monday. Lee was originally sentenced to five years for his corruption scandal involving former President Park Gye-Heun and another party. The scandal outraged many citizens because Park had taken bribes and donations from Lee in return for political favors to secure his leadership position in the company.
Then, in December, South Korean prosecutors had asked the appellate court to sentence Lee to 12 years in prison on the fie charges which included embezzlement and bribery.
Lee originally faced the 12 year sentence, but the judge insisted on the mandatory five year sentence because Lee had not directly sought out the favors and demanded the former President to accept the bribes.
Lee then tried to appeal his sentence that prosecutors asked for and on Monday the high court reduced his sentence by two and a half years. The court had also suspended the sentence of four years, meaning Lee may not have to return jail.
The decision by the high court has raised many questions. The current President of South Korea, Moon Jae-In, had said last year that there will be no more pardons and that corporation corruptions will not be taken lightly. Moon was a highly popular candidate in last year’s presidential election because of his anti-corruption platform stance.
This is not the first time Lee’s family had run into a corruption case. Lee’s grandfather, who had founded Samsung, was also investigating for a smuggling case, but was never prosecuted. Lee’s father was prosecuted on charges of bribery and tax evasion, who later received a presidential pardon.
Lee’s verdict marked the first member of the family to be convicted and jailed, which had made citizens hopeful of the government to crackdown on corporations.
“We have a new president in office, but the ‘Republic of Samsung’ lives on,” said Kwon Young-june, a professor who researches corporate governance at Seoul’s Kyung Hee University, according to Bloomberg. “It’s startling to see that the practice of letting chaebol [large family owned business conglomerates] chiefs get away with suspended sentences is continuing.”
Lee was also charged along with four other Samsung leaders, all facing similar charges. The court had also reduced or suspended the other leaders sentences. The court had defended its verdict by saying that there was no evidence that the defendants had requested or gained benefit from their bribes to Park. The court had also said that this isn’t an example of a typical “cozy relationship between politics and business.”
“It’s truly disappointing,” Park Yong-jin, a National Assembly member from Moon’s party, said in a statement. “We confirmed once again that Samsung is above the law and the court.”