Samsung Group heir Jay Y Lee has been relieved from the jail sentence imposed on him in February. A South Korean appeals court suspended the jail sentence on Monday, allowing Lee to walk free after a year in detention.
The 49-year old Lee is heir to one of the world’s biggest electronics company in the world. Lee has been in detention since last February after a Seoul High Court jailed him for two and a half years. The Court reduced the original term by half and suspended the sentence for charges including bribery and embezzlement. The revised court ruling meant that Lee need not serve time in jail.
Lee was accused of bribing political leaders in order to turn government decisions in favor of Samsung group companies. The corruption scandal led to fall of former President Park Geun-hye, who was dismissed in March after impeachment proceedings that scrutinized ties between large family-owned corporate groups also referred to as chaebols and its political leaders.
A lower court convicted Lee of bribing Park for help in strengthening his control of Samsung Electronics, one of the largest conglomerate in the country, and charged him for embezzlement and other charges. The court ruled that Lee did not ask for Park’s help directly but the government approval for a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates helped Lee cement his control over the conglomerate. The court said Samsung’s financial support for entities backed by a friend of Park’s, Choi Soon-sil, constituted bribery, including 7.2 billion won ($6.4 million) to sponsor the equestrian career of Choi’s daughter, Reuters reports.
On Monday, a senior judge presiding over the case called the nature of Lee’s involvement as a ‘passive compliance to political power’, and allowed him to walk free. Neither Lee nor Samsung shared any immediate comment on the dismissal of the case. At the start of proceedings, prosecutors sought a 12-year jail term for Lee. The ruling is expected to be appealed again in the Supreme Court.
The court has found Lee guilty of some lesser charges, and he is prohibited from traveling outside South Korea without a judge’s approval. With the dismissal of the case, Lee is expected to resume his role as director of Samsung Electronics once again.
While Lee can walk as a free man after the dismissal of previous ruling, the public opinion about him and the company hit new low. Lee’s arrest came alongside the Galaxy Note 7 debacle, which forced the company to recall over a million devices sold worldwide and stop sales in many other countries.
Samsung has made significant strides in terms of recovery, and brand building with newer products and renewed focus on consumer sentiment in the past year. It remains unknown whether Lee will take over the helm once again especially when the company is facing strong competition.