The heir to one of the world's leading tech giants has been freed from jail after a successful court appeal.
Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jae-yong, a.k.a. Jay W. Lee to westerners, has been released from incarceration. This came after a South Korean appeals court virtually reversed his five-year sentence for cases of embezzlement, perjury, and bribery, in relation to a graft scandal that took down former Korean President Park Geun-hye, Bloomberg reported.
The appeals court cut Lee's five-year sentence in half, then suspended it for four years, giving him immediate freedom. The surprising decision of reversing Lee's sentence came as a big shock not only for spectators but even for Lee himself. The 49-year-old son of Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee was also stunned upon hearing the court's decision, and was seen blushing while walking out of the courtroom, the report added.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that governance critics viewed Lee's release as a major letdown in terms of reforms. "This is a critical setback for the country," said Hongik University economist Jun Sung-in. "This case once again shows why the South Korean judiciary does not have the people's trust when it comes to cases involving chaebol chieftains," the economist added.
As for the ruling, the court pinned the blame for the bribe offers on former president Park while dismissing the prosecution's charges that Lee hid some of his assets offshore. "This is a case where Ms Park intimidated Samsung's management and her friend pursued personal interests," said the court's ruling. "The defendant passively offered bribes because he could not easily turn down their request," it added.
Chung noted that with Lee regaining his freedom, the latter will "will try hard to sort out various issues related to his succession and inheritance" and "accelerate Samsung's efforts to overhaul its governance."
According to The Verge, Lee cannot officially take the place of his ailing and incapacitated father as Samsung chairman. The Korean culture honors filial piety, which keeps the younger Lee from taking over as chairman until his father passes away.