Prosecutors seek nine-year prison term for Samsung chief Lee

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South Korean prosecutors have requested a nine-year prison term for Samsung’s de facto chief Lee Jae-yong during a retrial of his bribery charges.

The case is a key element in an explosive 2016 scandal that triggered months of public protests and toppled the country’s president.

The development comes as Lee faces immense pressure to navigate Samsung’s transition after his father and Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-Hee died in October aged 78.

Special prosecutor Park Young-soo demanded Seoul High Court sentence Lee to prison.

Lee Jae-yong is questioned by a reporter upon arrival at Seoul High Court
Lee Jae-yong is questioned by a reporter upon arrival at Seoul High Court (Lee Jin-man/AP)

Mr Park said Samsung, which is South Korea’s biggest company, should “set the example” for efforts to root out corruption.

“Samsung is a business group with overwhelming power, and there is even a saying that South Korean companies are divided into Samsung and non-Samsung ones,” Mr Park said.

“The rule of law and the egalitarianism principle … are meant to punish those in power and those with the economic power in line with the equal standard.”

Mr Park asked the court to sentence three former Samsung executives to seven years in prison and another former executive to five years.

Lee, 52, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, was sentenced in 2017 to five years in prison for offering 8.6 billion won (£5.8 million) in bribes to former president Park Geun-hye and her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil to get her government’s backing for his push to solidify his control over Samsung.

But he was freed in early 2018 after Seoul High Court reduced his term to two-and-a-half years and suspended his sentence, overturning key convictions and reducing the amount of his bribes.

Last year, the Supreme Court returned the case to the High Court, ruling that the amount of Lee’s bribes had been undervalued.

During Wednesday’s court session, Lee’s lawyers said the basic nature of the 2016 scandal was about ex-president Park’s abuse of power that infringed upon the freedom and property rights of businesses.

They said the plaintiffs were not able to resist the pressure by Park and Choi, and that both Samsung and any of the plaintiffs did not receive any special favours from Park’s government.

Lee apologised over the case, saying that “everything is my fault” and that “I deeply repent and am ashamed of myself”.

He said he will never engage in any activity that can cause misunderstanding and pledged to focus on making contribution to South Korean society.

Lee also reiterated his earlier promise not to pass the management rights to his children and to stop suppressing employee attempts to organise unions.

Seoul High Court is to issue a ruling on Lee on January 18, according to South Korean media reports.

In September, prosecutors separately indicted Lee for alleged stock price manipulation, breach of trust and auditing violations related to a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates that helped strengthen Lee’s control over the group’s crown jewel, Samsung Electronics.

Lee’s lawyers denied the charges, calling them “one-sided claims”.

They say the 2015 merger was “normal business activity”.

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