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President Moon Jae-in, left, and Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong

President gets close to Samsung just ahead of verdict on tycoon

All eyes are on Korea’s Supreme Court, which is expected to come up with a ruling on Samsung Group’s de facto chief, Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, this month.

The country’s courts have frequently come under fire for being overly lenient to tycoons of big businesses, but the judiciary has been seen to have made strict decisions on them of late.

Against this backdrop, President Moon Jae-in’s recent moves have spawned controversy. The left-leaning head of state has been regarded as unfriendly to wealthy businessmen including Samsung chief Lee, but things seem to be different this year.

On April 22, Moon stressed the significance of supporting the non-memory business, which Samsung is striving to develop to find its next-generation revenue source.

Two days later, the company disclosed a plan to spend more than $110 billion by 2030 to boost non-memory products such as system semiconductors.

This prompted Moon to officially praise Samsung on April 29 during a meeting with senior aides. The next day, the president visited a Samsung factory near Seoul where the tech giant announced its non-memory vision.

The question is whether Moon is doing the right thing just ahead of a court verdict on Lee.

I am concerned that judges on the top court may feel pressured into helping the government and Samsung work together to underpin the country’s economy. Then, they may feel compromised and unable to make neutral decisions.

If Moon had been a business-friendly president, his recent activities would be natural, but he hasn’t, and that’s why some question his steps over the past few months.

From the perspective of businessmen, overly close cooperation with the government can be a double-edged sword, and Vice Chairman Lee would be well aware of this after being imprisoned due to the charges he faced regarding his involvement with former President Park Geun-hye and her confidant Choi Soon-sil.

The 51-year-old spent a year on the wrong side of the bars after being found guilty of paying bribes to the two for their “help” to beef up his control of the country’s largest business conglomerate. 

He would definitely do not want to be imprisoned again during this administration or the next.

 

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