Calls seeking a presidential pardon for the imprisoned Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong have been growing over the past few weeks. Several South Korean business leaders and religious groups have petitioned President Moon Jae-in urging him to free Lee. Now, some US companies have come forward supporting the idea as well.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, which has about 800 member companies, has written to President Moon arguing that Lee could play an important role in addressing the ongoing global semiconductor chip shortage. He could help boost US President Joe Biden’s efforts to reduce American dependence on chips produced in foreign countries.
Biden is pushing to make America self-sufficient in chip production. He recently unveiled an ambitious $50 billion plan to boost the US semiconductor industry. Samsung is also preparing multi-billion investments to expand its chip production facilities in the US. However, the absence of a leader is hurting the Korean company’s decision-making, thus delaying its plans.
In a letter to the South Korean President, the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea has warned that if Samsung, the world’s biggest chipmaker, is not fully engaged in supporting Biden’s efforts, this could hurt the country’s status as a strategic partner to the US.
“We believe that a pardon of the most important executive of Samsung is in the best economic interest of both the US and Korea,” James Kim, the chamber’s chief executive, told The Financial Times.
US companies urge South Korean President to pardon Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong
Lee Jae-yong, who is now the richest person in South Korea, has been in jail since January this year. He is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence in a 2017 bribery case involving then South Korea president Park Geun-hye. Park is also serving a jail term.
However, ever since the chip shortage hit the tech industry, there have been growing calls from within South Korea seeking a pardon for the imprisoned Samsung leader. There’s a belief that Lee could play a significant role in the efforts to address this chip issue.
President Moon has shown some interest in the idea as well. However, releasing Lee from jail could have big political implications, so it’s not a straightforward decision. “We need to make a decision based on justice, fairness, and public consensus,” Moon said recently.
Since Moon’s two immediate predecessors Park and Lee Myung-bak are also behind bars, releasing Lee could lead to people seeking pardon for them as well. So it’s a complicated decision that requires Moon to consider several factors.
The South Korean President is traveling to Washington to meet US President Joe Biden later this week. The two leaders are likely to discuss various issues including the ongoing chip shortage and a possible presidential pardon for the Samsung chief. It now remains to be seen whether Lee Jae-yong walks out free anytime soon.