Samsung Group Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee on Tuesday officially started the appellate process for a five-year prison sentence he was issued last month on the charges of bribery, embezzlement of corporate funds, and perjury, among others. The Seoul High Court set the order of witnesses that are set to appear at Mr. Lee’s retrial which is scheduled to start in mid-October. The existing regulatory framework in South Korea only allows authorities to keep Mr. Lee in detention for four months while his appeal is being reviewed, and with the proceedings now officially starting, a verdict is set to be made by late January. The case itself is also extremely likely to end up at the Supreme Court of South Korea, many industry watchers believe, noting that the high-profile nature of the dispute almost guarantees that the losing side in the appellate proceedings is to file a second and final appeal to the top judicial body in the Far Eastern country.
Grandson of Samsung Group founder Lee Byung-chul has essentially been leading the company since 2014 when his father and Chairman Lee Kun-hee was reportedly left in a comatose state. The prison sentence issued to Mr. Lee stems from a major political scandal in Korea which also saw former President Park Geun-hye impeached after allegations emerged that she was bribed through her close associate to facilitate a 2015 merger of two Samsung Group affiliates. Ms. Park is currently undergoing her own trial, whereas her close associate Choi Soon-sil was already sentenced to three years in prison for her abuse of influence related to enrolling her daughter in a prestigious university despite her lack of qualifications but has yet to be issued a sentence in regards to her role in the scandal involving Samsung.
The 2015 merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries shifted more corporate power to the part of the chaebol controlled by the founding Lee family and essentially allowed Mr. Lee to guarantee his position within the company despite officially owning only a minor percentage of its operations, the prosecutors previously claimed. Mr. Lee was supposedly enticed to greenlight a political bribe because the Korea’s largest state pension fund was a major shareholder of Samsung C&T and didn’t have any incentive to approve the merger which saw its investment absorbed by Cheil Industries at a loss.