Prosecutors demanded a 12-year sentence for Lee Jae-Yong.
PIC: On August 2, 2017, Lee Jae-Yong (C), the vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics, is escorted by prison guards as he arrives at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul. (AFP)
COURT | SAMSUNG
The heir to the Samsung business empire, including the world’s biggest smartphone maker, awaited the verdict Friday in his corruption trial over the scandal that brought down South Korean president Park Geun-Hye.
Prosecutors demanded a 12-year sentence for Lee Jae-Yong, which could leave the giant firm rudderless for years and hamper its ability to make key investment decisions.
Lee faces multiple charges including bribery, embezzlement and perjury stemming from the scandal, centred on payments and promises by Samsung totalling 43.3 billion won (around $40 million) to Park’s secret confidante Choi Soon-Sil.
Prosecutors say the money was in return for policy favours including government support for Lee’s hereditary succession at the group, after his father was left bedridden by a heart attack in 2014.
The defence says it was pressured by Park to make the donations under duress — and that Lee was not aware of them and did not approve them. Four other top Samsung executives are also on trial.
Amid mounting social and economic frustrations the demonstrators who mounted giant candlelit protests against Park last year also targeted Lee and other chaebol chiefs, as the family-controlled conglomerates that dominate Asia’s fourth-largest economy are known.
Chaebols have long had murky connections with political authorities in South Korea, and past trials of their leaders have often ended with light or suspended sentences, with courts citing their contributions to the economy.
But Samsung has so far made light of Lee’s absence — he was detained in custody in February — with flagship subsidiary Samsung Electronics, where he is vice-chairman, making record profits on the back of strong demand for its memory chips.
Its shares have soared in recent months, but were down 0.7 percent on Friday morning ahead of the verdict.
Around 800 riot police were deployed around the Seoul Central District Court to prevent possible clashes between rival sets of demonstrators, the Yonhap news agency reported.
The court was deluged with hundreds of applications for the 30 seats in courtroom 417 available to members of the public, which were allocated by lottery.
Park’s own trial began in the same courtroom in May, and it also saw Lee’s father Lee Kun-Hee convicted of tax and other offences in 2008, receiving a suspended sentence.
The court refused permission for the verdict to be broadcast live, in contrast to the Constitutional Court’s ruling on Park’s impeachment in March.
But the pro-business JoongAng Ilbo newspaper — which used to be a part of the Samsung group — backed the decision, saying it would avoid the decision being affected by “any biases or populism”.
“The court should not apply overly lenient standards to chaebol,” it said in an editorial. “At the same time, it must not be swayed by unidentified civic groups that pretend to reflect public opinion.”
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