The final hearing of a trial that may decide whether Samsung Electronics Co Ltd vice chairman Jay Y. Lee returns to jail for alleged bribery began during a Seoul court on Wednesday.
The heir of one of South Korea’s most powerful families was convicted of bribing an associate of former President Park Geun-Hye. He went to jail for five years in 2017. Reducing and suspending of the sentence on appeal and he only served a year in jail before they freed him in 2018.
A subsequent Supreme Court ruling sent the matter back to the Seoul court, which must now choose a new sentence. a choice isn’t expected until early next year.
While not the sole legal challenge Lee is handling – he’s also on trial for alleged fraud and stock price manipulation – the bribery case is that the biggest immediate threat to his leadership of Samsung Electronics.
Lee, 52, has been the de facto head of Samsung Electronics since his father Lee Kun-hee was hospitalized in 2014. The elder Lee passed away in October but his role as chairman has yet to be filled.
A return to jail could see the younger Lee forced off the board. Also sidelining him from major decisions at the smartphone-to-semiconductor giant. At a time when the family must raise funds to pay a hefty inheritance tax. And also potentially juggle equity stakes in key affiliates to shore its control.
How much more jail time Lee serves, if any, will partly depend upon the court’s evaluation of the work. An independent compliance committee founded by Samsung earlier this year will do it.
A former Supreme Court judge who headed the committee, established in January to observe wrongdoing by executives and suggest remedies.
Under South Korean law, a jail term of three years or less may be suspended; over that and therefore the person must serve out the term barring a presidential pardon.
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