A South Korean court on Monday acquitted Samsung's top executive, Lee Jae-yong, of charges of stock price manipulation and accounting fraud that helped preserve control of the country's largest company.
A Seoul District Court judge, Mr. Lee and 13 other current and former Samsung officials said there was insufficient evidence to prove the charges against them, saying the primary purpose of the merger was Mr. It was to strengthen Lee's authority. Collectively against the business interests of each of the merged Samsung subsidiaries.
Advocates Mr. They sought five years in prison and a 500 million fine against Lee, 55. He has denied any wrongdoing. Lawyers have the option to appeal to a higher court. Neither Samsung Electronics nor the attorneys' office were immediately available for comment after the ruling.
Mr. Lee's lawyers said in a statement that the decision “clearly confirmed the legality” of the merger and its subsidiaries' accounting.
Samsung is one of the largest and most successful South Korean companies known as chaebol. Samsung Electronics, the group's electronics arm, alone accounts for one-sixth of the country's exports. Jay Y. Mr. also known as Lee. Lee is South Korea's richest man, according to Bloomberg News. His net worth is estimated to be around $9 billion.
Some South Koreans speak proudly of chaebol for helping transform the country from a war-torn agricultural economy to a global export powerhouse. But others examine whether they increasingly cripple small businesses or make corrupt deals with government officials without facing enough consequences.
Most chaebol scandals stem from families' efforts to ensure that the next generation inherits control.
Business experts in South Korea said they were surprised by Monday's ruling, which they said raised concerns about the fairness of the country's markets and the credibility of its judiciary.
Sung-In Jun, an economics professor at Hongik University in Seoul, said, “This case confirms a judicial system that is far more backward than in the past, and how powerless South Korean political and judicial authorities are in the face of chaebol.”
Mr. Lee's legal troubles began. Ms. Park was jailed in 2017 and pardoned and released in 2022.
Mr. Park is accused of bribing Ms. Park and her confidante Choi Soon-sil to win government support for a 2015 merger of two Samsung subsidiaries at the center of a corruption scandal. Lee was arrested in 2017. He was then the Vice President of Samsung Electronics.
Mr. Lee Kun-hee, whose father Lee Kun-hee, who was incapacitated by a heart attack in 2014 and pardoned twice for bribery and tax evasion, will take control of Samsung. Lawyers said the merger was a step in Lee's efforts. Before. Elliott Management, a New York-based hedge fund, launched a campaign urging shareholders to vote against the merger. But the country's National Pension Service, which was a major shareholder in one of the subsidiaries, Mr. Prosecutors said Lee voted in favor of the merger in exchange for bribes.
In 2017, the Seoul District Court ruled that Mr. Lee was sentenced to five years in prison for paying 8.9 billion in bribes. Park and Ms. Choi.
His case wound its way through the court system over the next two years, and the Seoul High Court commuted his sentence and released him from prison in 2018. The country's Supreme Court ordered a retrial in 2019.
As he awaits retrial in 2020, Mr. Lee was indicted on charges of stock price manipulation and accounting fraud., The verdict in the case was announced on Monday. But prosecutors were unable to arrest him as the court refused to issue an arrest warrant.
Prosecutors allege that Lee and current and former Samsung executives committed those crimes in the 2015 merger. His lawyers said the merger was legal.
During a retrial on bribery charges in 2021, the Seoul High Court ruled that Mr. Lee was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and found the bribes totaled 8.6 billion won.
Later that year, the Justice Ministry released him on parole, along with 800 other prisoners, on a holiday commemorating the end of Japan's colonial rule over Korea at the end of World War II. South Korea often paroles or pardons prisoners on important national holidays.
Mr. Business analysts are divided on whether Lee's time in prison affected his empire. While he was in prison, Samsung Electronics became the world's most profitable technology company. Others are Mr. Samsung. They said they were postponing key decisions with Lee and falling behind rivals like TSMC.
By the time he is released in 2021, he will be banned from working at Samsung for another five years. Mr. It was lifted in 2022 when he received a pardon from President Yoon Suk-yeol, who was the lead prosecutor for Lee's trial.
Two months later, Samsung Electronics Mr. The appointment of Lee as chief executive came within 15 months of his release from prison for bribery.