Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong bows while apologizing for his misdeeds in a press conference. This week, he was imprisoned once again as the Seoul High Court sentenced him to two years and six months in jail for bribery. Photo courtesy of Samsung Electronics

Court sentences Lee Jae-yong to 30 months in prison

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, who is de facto chief of the Samsung Group, was jailed for bribery on Jan. 18 for the second time in his life.

The Seoul High Court sentenced the 52-year-old tycoon to two years and six months in prison in the bribery case, which also imprisoned former President Park Geun-hye.

After the sentence, Lee remained silent and talked briefly with his lawyers before being taken into custody.

In 2017, he served time for bribing the now-impeached President Park, the predecessor of incumbent President Moon Jae-in. Park is accused of asking for bribes in return for helping Lee beef up his grip over the Samsung Group.

He was released in 2018 when an appeals court halving the jail term and suspended it. But the Supreme Court overturned the verdict in 2019, ruling that the high-court decision was overly lenient.

Then the high-profile case went back to the Seoul High Court for review. After that, Lee and Samsung have pulled out all the stops to avoid imprisonment.

The outfit followed the recommendation of the court to set up a compliance committee to prevent the recurrence of any managerial wrongdoings.

In addition, Lee promised to break Samsung’s time-honored tradition of opposing trade unions while vowing not to transfer the managerial rights to his son.

Lee is the grandson of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chull and the only son of former Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who died late last October.

Hence, some observers said that Vice Chairman Lee might be able to avoid being locked up again. But they were plain wrong.

Because Lee spent around a year in detention, he has to serve 18 more months. Or the billionaire businessman may gain a pardon before the completion of his term.

It remains to be seen whether or not Lee will appeal the verdict.

Experts worry that the absence of Vice Chairman Lee might negatively affect Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest maker of memory chips and smartphones.

“As a representative enterprise of Korea, Samsung is required to spearhead the country’s efforts to preempt the new business trend. But the lack of its leader might hurt it,” said Lee Kyung-sang, a senior executive of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The publisher studied Korean history in Seoul and management of business administration in the United Kingdom. He has 20-year experiences in the media business. Kim can be reached at or 82-2-6956-6698.