Heir to Samsung multi-billion-dollar fortune sent back to jail in South Korea

Monday, January 18
Ciarán Mather

Billionaire Lee Jae-yong has been sent back to prison for his involvement in a 2016 corruption scandal that led to mass protests and the ousting of South Korea’s then-president.

Mr. Jae-yong's father, Lee Kun-Hee, was the wealthiest stock owner in South Korea when he passed away in October of last year, and was worth 18.2 trillion won (around €13.64 billion), which he left to his son.

The heir to the Samsung legacy took over the company from his father in 2014 after he suffered a heart attack.

According to reports, the 52-year-old was recently retrialed and found guilty by the country's High Court of bribing the then-president Park Geun-hye and her close confidante Choi Soon-sil.

Jae-yong bribing Ms. Geun-hye and Ms. Soon-sil was part of a plan to win government support for a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates.

In 2017, Mr. Jae-yong was found guilty and originally sentenced to five years in prison for offering 8.6 billion won (€6.44m) in bribes, but was freed after just 11 months in February 2018 when the Seoul High Court overturned key convictions.

Injae Lee, the leader of Mr. Jae-yong's defence team, expressed his regret over the court’s decision to send his client back to jail for two and a half years.

He said: '[the] essence of the case is that a former president abused power to infringe upon the freedom and property rights of a private company'.

The team added that what Mr. Jae-yong did was simply part of 'normal business activity.'

It is currently unknown if Mr. Jae-yong and Mr. Lee will appeal this decision. 

Samsung has not yet commented on the sentencing of Mr. Jae-yong. 

The news comes shortly after Ms. Park was sentenced to 20 years in prison last week, while Ms. Soon-sil is serving an 18-year sentence.

Ms. Park's sentence could be further extended to 22 years due to a separate conviction for illegally interfering in nominations for party candidates in the 2016 election.

Following an underwhelming 2019, Samsung improved its sales last year. 

However, following the news of Mr. Jae-yong's conviction, it remains to be seen whether or not it will impact the company.