Samsung heir pardoned for good of Korean economy

Kris Carlon / Android Authority

TL;DR

  • Samsung’s heir, Jay Y. Lee, has just been fully pardoned by the South Korean government for his various crimes.
  • The government clarifies that its pardon is due to the protection of the economy, which depends heavily on Samsung.
  • It is likely that Lee will officially take over his father’s former position as head of Samsung.

In South Korea, Samsung Electronics vice president Jay Y. Lee has been convicted multiple times on multiple felony counts. These include perjury, embezzlement, hiding assets outside the country, and bribing elected officials to help Samsung carry out various business transactions.

Although Lee – known as Lee Jae-yong in Korea – served time in prison for these crimes, his criminal record is now clean. The Samsung heir received a presidential pardon from the Korean government and can now do whatever he wants at Samsung. This would, theoretically, include him eventually taking over the business as people expected after the position was vacated due to the death of his father.

In other words, the government believes that the Korean economy is so dependent on Lee’s leadership at Samsung that it is willing to look past all his crimes.

Samsung heir: rules for you, not for him

Korean laws prevented Lee from working at Samsung while he was serving his prison sentence. However, rumors suggest he was still involved in current affairs and the government did little to stop him.

Now that he’s out, his criminal record would still prevent him from having full freedom to run Samsung. This is why the presidential pardon is important. It basically allows him to do what he would do without a criminal record.

The Korean government has no problem looking the other way when Samsung does blatantly illegal things.

Besides that, Lee’s father – Lee Kun-hee – also had many alleged criminal cases. These include bribery, tax evasion and breach of trust charges. Lee Kun-hee was also pardoned by the Korean government and was never formally charged or served prison time.

Lee Kun-hee was hospitalized in 2014 after suffering a heart attack. He passed away in 2020. Since 2014, however, his position as head of Samsung has remained vacant, although his son has been treated as Samsung’s de facto heir.

Obviously, father and son were running Samsung with little regard for the law. Now Jay Y. Lee has a clean record and can resume his activities.

Samsung and South Korea clearly have a big problem

“With urgent needs to overcome the national economic crisis, we have carefully selected economic leaders who lead the engine of national growth through active technological investments and the creation of jobs to be forgiven,” said the Minister of Health. Justice Han Dong Hoon after Jay Y. Lee’s pardon.

It should be quite worrying for Korea that it is ready to depend so much on this one person for the entire Korean economy. Samsung is huge – it accounts for around 15% of South Korea’s GDP. But if Samsung needs one man’s leadership to survive, that puts much of Korea’s success on that man’s shoulders. Korea’s pardon for Samsung executives is essentially a tacit endorsement that they are above the law.

This type of structure is not durable and could cause incredible problems for Samsung – and Korea itself – over time.

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