Samsung's Lee faces sentencing for bribery charge after four years of trials

SEOUL (Reuters) – A South Korean court will sentence Samsung Electronics Co Ltd heir Jay Y. Lee on a bribery charge on Monday, a ruling likely to have ramifications for his leadership of the tech giant as well as South Korea’s views toward big business.

FILE PHOTO: Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman, Jay Y. Lee, speaks during a news conference at a company’s office building in Seoul, South Korea, May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

If Lee is jailed, he will be sidelined from major decision making at Samsung Electronics as it strives to overtake competitors, and will be diverted from overseeing the process of inheritance from his father, who died in October, crucial to keeping control of Samsung.

If Lee remains free, he will be able to devote himself to both while likely facing strong backlash claiming the South Korean legal process shows undue leniency to chaebol, or family-run conglomerates, criticised for wielding too much power amid lapses in governance.

Lee, 52, was convicted of bribing an associate of former President Park Geun-hye and jailed for five years in 2017. He denied wrongdoing, the sentence was reduced and suspended on appeal, and he was released after serving a year.

The Supreme Court then sent the case back to the Seoul High Court, which will rule on it, and the sentencing, on Monday.

Under South Korean law, a jail term of three years or less can be suspended; for longer sentences, the person must serve out the term barring a presidential pardon.

Prosecutors have called for a nine-year jail term.

If imprisoned, the year Lee already served in detention will count toward the sentence, as it is the same case.

Monday’s sentencing can be appealed to the Supreme Court.

“In a case sent back by the Supreme Court, there is a narrower range of options for the judges’ bench… but it’s also true that the Supreme Court can’t really touch the final court’s sentencing no matter what it is,” said Rha Seung-chul, a lawyer not connected with the case.

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