Samsung Group Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong’s appeal to the five-year jail term he was given on the charges of bribing top-level government officials over the summer is now in question after new evidence came to light that seems to strengthen the prosecution’s case against him. Mr. Lee, who also uses the name Jay Y. Lee in the West, repeatedly claimed he never met with former President of South Korea Park Geun-hye save for a brief encounter that only lasted for several minutes. Earlier this month, Ms. Park’s ex-secretary testified that Samsung’s scion met with the President in 2014 and also had a subsequent rendezvous with the former head of the state. With that particular meeting never being disclosed by Mr. Lee’s defense and its very existence contradicting a crucial aspect of the story presented to the Seoul Central District Court, the chances of his case being successfully appealed after a higher court revisits its facts remain slim, some industry watchers believe.
The de facto head of the South Korean tech giant could theoretically have his sentence suspended or even be pardoned by the current President, much like former President Lee Myung-bak pardoned his father Lee Kun-hee who was given a suspended three-year prison sentence after establishing a slush fund for bribes in 2008. The history is somewhat unlikely to repeat itself on this particular occasion, with current President Moon Jae-in winning his office on a platform that strongly opposed chaebols and the high level of influence they exert over top government officials in Seoul. The five-year prison sentence given to Mr. Lee is less than half of the 12-year term requested by the prosecutors and is now set to be revisited later this month, with the final ruling on the matter being expected to arrive in January. Should the first appeal be unsuccessful, Mr. Lee’s legal team is also left with the option of appealing the verdict with the Supreme Court of South Korea. While it previously signaled it would be prepared to do so, it’s presently unclear whether these plans have changed in light of the latest testimony that additionally weakens Mr. Lee’s defense.
While Samsung’s heir apparent never denied that company paid bribes to Choi Soon-sil, a close associate of former President Park, seeking to gain political favors in the process of doing so, he denied partaking in the scheme and having direct knowledge of it, whereas prosecutors were adamant he personally approved of it. The scandal already led to the dismantlement of Samsung’s Future Strategy Office which officially sanctioned the bribes. Coupled with Mr. Lee’s imprisonment and the sudden resignation of one of the company’s top executives, Samsung’s subsidiaries are currently much less coordinated than they were in previous years.