South Korean president President Yoon Suk Yeol has pardoned Samsung heir Jay Y. Lee and has cleared him of bribery charges in hopes of revitalizing the country’s economy. Lee was originally sentenced to five years in prison in 2017 after being found guilty of bribing public officials to back the merger of two Samsung affiliates, which would have solidified his control over the tech giant. He walked free after a year in detention, but the South Korean Supreme Court overturned that decision and ordered the case to be retried.
While Lee was sentenced with two-and-a-half years of prison time in early 2021 in that retrial, he was paroled half a year later in a development that civic groups had described as another example of the justice system being lenient towards the country’s elite. Now, Lee doesn’t have to worry about being sent to prison on bribery charges again — the presidential pardon even allows him to rejoin Samsung’s board and to travel overseas to close deals. He was previously not allowed to take on an official role at Samsung under the conditions of his parole, even though the company’s executives had been keeping him apprised of the latest developments.
According to Bloomberg, Lee is now expected to make major strategic decisions for the tech giant, including deals related to chipmaking. The Korean government said in a statement:
“In a bid to overcome the economic crisis by vitalizing the economy, Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, whose suspended prison term was ended recently, will be reinstated.”
Similarly, Justice Minister Han Dong Hoon said at a briefing:
“With urgent needs to overcome the national economic crisis, we carefully selected economic leaders who lead the national growth engine through active technology investment and job creation to be pardoned.”
In its latest earnings report, Samsung posted a 12 percent profit increase due to weak mobile and PC demand, which it blamed on “geopolitical issues and concerns over inflation on top of continued weak seasonality.” The company also expects demand for consumer devices to stay weak over the coming months.
As Bloomberg said, it’s unclear if Lee intends to take over as Samsung’s chairman, which has been a vacant position since his father Lee Kun-hee passed away in 2020. It’s worth noting that Lee still isn’t completely free of legal problems, though, and could still face jail time if he’s found guilty in a separate case of fraud and stock manipulation. He will continue attending hearings related to that case.