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South Korean Ruling Party Leader Hints At A Possible Pardon For Samsung Chief

Lee Jae yong WSJ image 1
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Samsung Vice Chairman and de facto leader Lee Jae-yong has been in jail since January this year. He is serving a 2.5 years sentence in a bribery case involving former South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Since Lee has decided against appealing the sentence, he will have to serve out the full term. In the meantime, calls seeking a presidential pardon for the imprisoned Samsung chief have been growing over the past few weeks. Now, the Chairman of the South Korean ruling party has thrown his weight behind this idea as well.

In an interview with Korean news outlet Yonhap News Agency, Democratic Party leader Song Young-gil said that Samsung needs Lee in office, not in jail, so he could facilitate the company’s investments in two major challenges the world is facing right now: global semiconductor chip shortage and COVID-19 pandemic.

Song also suggested that Lee may indeed walk out of the jail soon. “(Lee) could possibly be freed on parole, not limited only to a pardon,” he said. It was Song’s first press interview since taking over the leadership duties of the ruling Democratic Party last month.

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Democratic Party leader calls for a pardon for imprisoned Samsung chief

Ever since a semiconductor shortage hit the smartphone and automotive industry, there have been growing calls seeking a presidential pardon for imprisoned Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong. The Korean conglomerate is the world’s largest memory chip maker. It’s also the second-largest company in the foundry segment, behind Taiwan’s TSMC.

So it’s quite evident that Samsung needs to be at the forefront of a combined effort to try and resolve this chip shortage problem as early as possible. It needs to invest big and expand its chip production capacity. However, the absence of a leader is delaying the company’s investment-related decisions. In the meantime, rival companies such as TSMC and Intel have already made significant progress with their respective investment plans.

South Korean businesses fear that this delay could have disastrous implications on the country’s economy. Major business lobby groups in the country submitted a petition to the President in April, asking him to pardon Lee. They have also gained support from several religious groups and even some US companies.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been open to the idea as well. However, it’s not an easy decision for him, especially because presidential elections are coming near. “Fairness, precedents, and public sentiment must be considered,” Moon had said last month.

He also recently met senior executives from Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and SK Group over a luncheon, where this topic was brought to his attention again. He didn’t immediately reject the idea but didn’t reach any conclusive decision either. It will now be interesting to see whether President Moon grants a pardon to Lee Jae-yong, the wealthiest person in South Korea and the heir to the most significant GDP contributor to the country’s economy.