S. Korea’s Yoon Pardons Samsung’s Jay Y. Lee for Countering ‘Financial Crisis’

  • Samsung heir served 18 months in prison for bribery
  • Businessmen were convicted of a scandal that brought down a president
  • S. Korea says leaders needed to help overcome economic crisis
  • Samsung may increase investment with Lee pardoned – analysts

SEOUL, Aug 12 (Reuters) – South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol pardoned Samsung Electronics ( 005930.KS ) Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee on Friday, while the Justice Ministry said the company leader was needed to help overcome a “national economic crisis “.

The pardon is largely symbolic, with Lee already out on parole after serving 18 months in prison for bribery in a scandal that led to massive protests and toppled then-President Park Geun-hye in 2017.

However, analysts said the pardon should mean Lee will be able to carry out business activities with fewer legal restrictions, and could herald some major investment from Samsung, the world’s largest maker of smartphones and memory chips.

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“With the urgent need to overcome the national economic crisis, we carefully selected economic leaders who lead the national growth engine through active technology investment and job creation to be pardoned,” Justice Minister Han Dong Hoon said at a briefing.

Technology and export-dependent South Korea, Asia’s fourth largest economy, is struggling with soaring inflation, weakened demand, poor sentiment and declining spending. read more

Lee, an heir to Samsung’s founding family, welcomed the decision and vowed to work hard for the national economy “with continuous investment and job creation”.

Also pardoned by pro-business Yoon was Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin, who was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on bribery charges, also related to Park.

In a statement, Lotte said Shin would also help “overcome the complex global crisis.”


Park herself was pardoned late last year by her successor, liberal President Moon Jae-in, who struggled to follow through on campaign promises to clean up business and politics.

A survey conducted last month jointly by four pollsters showed that 77% of respondents were in favor of pardoning the Samsung executive, despite the earlier protests.

“(This support) is apparently due to the current economic situation, but it also seems that people have partly believed that Lee was in a bit of a position where he couldn’t pull off the pressure from the previous administration,” said Eom Kyeong-young, a political commentator based in Seoul.

While business groups including the Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Korea Enterprises Federation welcomed the pardon for Lee, civil rights groups criticized Yoon’s pardons for businessmen.

“The Yon Suk-yeol administration… ultimately aims only for a country only for the rich,” People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said in a statement.

Another jailed former president, Lee Myung-bak, was expected to be pardoned after Yoon raised the possibility in June, but was ultimately not on the list. He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 17 years in prison for corruption, embezzlement and bribery.


Analysts have long expected decisions on major projects and investments once Lee was reinstated, with company sources saying such decisions should be made only by Lee.

“This removes the employment restriction Lee was technically under,” said Park Ju-gun, head of research firm Leaders Index.

“And projects that were pursued by Samsung, such as large M&A or investments, these may be linked to the pardon.”

Even before receiving the presidential pardon, Lee had returned to the limelight, appearing in May with President Yoon and US President Joe Biden when they visited Samsung’s Pyeongtaek chip manufacturing plant.

He also visited Europe in June to meet ASML Holding NV ( ASML.AS ) CEO Peter Wennink, where he discussed the introduction of key high-end chip equipment. read more

Last November, Samsung decided on Taylor, Texas as the location for a new $17 billion chip plant. read more

Top Samsung executives earlier this year hinted at potential upcoming acquisition activity. Samsung Electronics hasn’t completed a high-profile deal since it completed its $8 billion purchase of audio electronics maker Harman in 2017.

Although macroeconomic factors such as a slowdown in demand can weigh on investment decisions, Samsung has a huge war chest.

Samsung Electronics’ cash holdings rose slightly to 125 trillion won ($95.13 billion) at the end of June, from 111 trillion a year earlier.

While experts say Lee can now participate more freely in management, his legal problems persist due to an ongoing trial in which he risks a return to prison if found guilty of fraud and stock manipulation charges.

Shares in Samsung Electronics closed up 0.5% against the benchmark KOSPI’s (.KS11) rise of 0.2%. Lotte Corp (004990.KS) shares were down 0.6%.

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Reporting by Joyce Lee, Soo-hyang Choi, Heekyong Yang; Editing of Lincoln Feast

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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