Lee, who is the richest person in South Korea, has been in jail since January this year. A national high court sentenced him to two-and-a-half years in prison in a 2017 bribery case involving then South Korea president Park Geun-hye. The Samsung heir had bribed Park to help him take control of the business.
He had already served time in detention, which counted toward the sentence. But there’s still almost a year left in his sentence. However, there have been growing calls for his release either on parole or a presidential pardon recently, both in South Korea as well as other parts of the world. Those calling for his release argue that Lee’s absence is hurting Samsung’s decision-making, which in turn is affecting South Korea’s economy amid the global health crisis.
Lee’s absence in the office is also hurting the global tech industry which is facing an unprecedented semiconductor chip shortage. Samsung, being one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers, has a big role to play in mitigating this shortage. Considering all these implications, the South Korean Justice Ministry decided to release the Samsung chief on parole.
“I’ve caused much concern for the people. I deeply apologize,” the 53-year old said in a media briefing outside the prison. He acknowledged that there are “high expectations” from him and that he will “work hard.”
Jailed Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong released on parole in the national interest
In a statement, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office said that Lee was released from jail in the national interest. “There have been many people who called for his parole in this severe crisis, hoping that he will help the country with respect to semiconductors and vaccines,” the statement read.
The president’s camp also respected the opposing views saying they are “also right” to oppose Lee’s parole. But it asked for understanding from them.
However, according to BBC, Lee’s parole conditions include five years of business restrictions. So he likely won’t be able to resume office unless exempted. But he can surely make critical investment decisions unofficially. Earlier reports suggested that Samsung executives were given only ten minutes with Lee in jail. That wasn’t enough for them to discuss business plans and reach a decision. Now that he’s out of jail, there’s more time for all that.
That said, Lee also has a couple more criminal cases pending trial against him. He is under investigation for fraud and stock manipulation. If found guilty, he might have to head back into prison again.