Jay Y. Lee, vice chairman of Samsung electronics, the heir to South Korea’s biggest conglomerate, was jailed earlier this year for two and half years in prison. He was charged with bribery and was first sentenced in 2017, but the terms were suspended on appeal. The 52-year-old was convicted for bribing the confidante of the former head of state Park Geun-hye in a corruption act that caused the impeachment and sentencing of the nation’s first woman leader. He stayed in jail for one year but was released after his initial five-year sentence was reduced and suspended. In 2019, the Supreme Court sent back the case to the Seoul High Court for a retrial that led to the ruling in January.
Since Lee was jailed, strategic decisions have been delayed; Samsung management is now waiting to see if their leader will be released on parole. His release has been supported by many, including political players and the public. If his parole succeeds, Samsung would be able to continue with crucial investment and monitoring and evaluation projects. These are the decisions the tech giant sources claim should only be made by Lee, and he has not been able to sort them out while serving a sentence.
Four Samsung sources told Reuters, a decision on the location of a $17 billion US plant to make advanced logic chips awaits Lee’s release. “The word is that the US investment will be sealed when Vice Chairman Lee returns,” one of the sources reported on the condition of anonymity. One of Samsung’s three co-CEOs, and the head of chips and components, Kinam Kim, sent a direct appeal to President Moon Jae-in in June, asserting that Lee’s release was significant. “Semiconductors require huge investment decisions, and they cannot be quickly made in the absence of the head of the conglomerate,” Moon’s office quoted Kim’s argument.
The Ministry of Justice lessened parole eligibility last month for first-time criminals who have a record of good behavior, such as Lee. Having sat in jail for some 18 months, Lee is now eligible for parole. Initially, the average eligible time for all offenders in South Korea was 80% and was eased to 60%.
The head of the conglomerate’s parole is set for review on August 9. Within Samsung, members have high hopes that he will be released around August 15 during the country’s Independence Day celebration, three firm’s sources stated. Samsung and the Justice Ministry did not respond to a call to comment on Lee’s parole.
Lee is subjected to a five-year work restriction, and if released, he would require a special exemption to go back to work. Legal experts say that he is likely to get it as the funds considered to be misappropriated have been repaid. Still, there have been protests against Lee’s parole, and civic society has shown opposition. Public support is at about 70%, as per two polls recently conducted. A parliamentary committee chief has also declared his support while other ruling party officials have gone to Samsung’s chip complex, claiming Lee is eligible for release.
Lee’s parole has support on social media ranging from people who think he has repaid the embezzled amount while others claim that without Lee’s leadership, South Korea’s flagship conglomerate will be defeated by competitors at a period when global chip shortage is at peak and rivals such as Intel Corp and TSMC are making huge investments.