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Samsung heir freed from prison after court reduces sentence in corruption case

Lee Jae-yong arrives at the Seoul High Court for a hearing on Feb. 5.
(Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press)

Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong was freed Monday after a South Korean appeals court gave him a 2 1/2-year suspended jail sentence for corruption in connection with a scandal that toppled the country’s president.

The Seoul High Court softened the original ruling against Lee, rejecting most of the bribery charges brought by prosecutors who sought a 12-year prison term.

Though the ruling allows the Samsung vice chairman to be freed after a year in prison and resume his role at the helm of the industrial giant founded by his grandfather, he faces a slew of challenges outside prison.

Chief among them will be winning trust that he is capable of running South Korea’s biggest company, and assuaging public anger among those who viewed the court’s surprise decision as a setback in the war on corruption.

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“The past year was a precious time for personal reflection,” Lee told reporters waiting outside the gates of a detention center in southern Seoul.

Lee’s first stop from the prison was a Samsung hospital where his father has been hospitalized after suffering a heart attack in 2014.

Lee was charged with offering $38 million in bribes to former President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil, embezzling Samsung funds, hiding assets overseas, concealing proceeds from criminal activities and committing perjury.

The appeals court said Lee was unable to reject the then-president’s request to financially support her confidante and was coerced into making the payments. The court still found Lee guilty of giving $3.3 million in bribes for equestrian training of Choi’s daughter and of embezzling the money from Samsung funds.

Lee’s lawyer, Lee Injae, told reporters that the Samsung vice chairman still plans to appeal his conviction. Prosecutors also were expected to appeal the court’s ruling, making it almost certain the case will go to the Supreme Court.

Lee, 49, the only son of Samsung’s ailing chairman, was given a five-year prison term in August.

Many South Koreans were expecting a tough stance from the appeals court and took to social media and online news portals to vent their anger at the ruling and the judge who issued the verdict.


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