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Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was released on parole at 10 a.m. on Aug. 13. Photo courtesy of Samsung Electronics

Can Lee Jae-yong head Samsung right away?

Released no parole early Aug. 13 after seven months behind bars, Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong moved to the head office of the world’s largest maker of semiconductors and smartphones.

This causes controversies about whether he can return to the management because the Ministry of Justice put a five-year employment ban in this February in line with local law.

As the 53-year-old billionaire was supposed to be freed midway through next year, the five-year restriction means he cannot take charge of Samsung by 2027.

Solidarity for Economic Reform claimed that Lee had violated the employment ban over the past several months because he did not resign from the vice-chairmanship of Samsung Electronics.

“I am not sure whether the news articles are true that Lee got reports from Samsung officials on Aug. 13. If that is true, he is in violation of the relevant law,” the civic group’s activist Kang Jeong-min said.

There are two ways for Lee to avoid debates about his participation in Samsung management _ either by getting permission from the Ministry of Justice or receiving a presidential pardon.

“If Lee is prohibited from leading Samsung, what’s the point of releasing him? The Ministry of Justice is required to let him do his job without any problems,” Prof. Lee Phil-sang at Seoul National University said.

“The government may worry about criticisms on special treatments ahead of next year’s election. But it has to persuade people for the national economy.”

The presidential election is slated for March 9 next year to choose the successor of President Moon Jae-in.

After deciding to grant parole to Lee early this week, Justice Minister Park Beom-kye said that he has yet to think about the issue.

There were reports that Minister Park was asked to give exemptions to the Samsung scion, but Park said on Aug. 12 that he had not received such requests.

When contacted, a Samsung official refused to make comments.

Freed after 207 days behind bars

Lee was jailed as the court sentenced a 30-month prison term for bribing former South Korean President Park Geun-hye in return for helping Lee strengthen his grip on Samsung.

As Lee already served about a year in 2017, he completed more than 60 percent of his prison term, which is the minimum requirement for the review for parole.

“I have caused too much concern to the public. I am really sorry,” Lee told reporters on Aug. 13 before bowing deeply. “I am listening to the worries, criticisms, and high expectations for me. I will do my best.”

Although he was freed Friday, he runs the risk of returning to jail as two separate lawsuits are pending.

One is about charges of unfair trading and stock manipulation related to the 2015 merger between Samsung affiliates, which were necessary for his succession.

The other is a court battle about his alleged use of propofol. He was accused of having taken illegal propofol shots at a Seoul clinic in 2017 and 2018 (See the Korea News Plus article on July 2, 2021).

In early June, prosecutors slapped him with a 50 million won ($45,000) fine in a summary indictment. But a Seoul court said that he should go through an official trial instead of just paying a fine.

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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 voc200@gmail.com or 82-2-6956-6698.