With the Seoul Central District Court set to rule on Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong on Friday, hundreds of people formed a long line on Tuesday to win a chance to witness the historic moment in person.
As the seat allocation process opened at 10 a.m. at the Seoul Bankruptcy Court in southern Seoul, applicants filled out forms, threw them into a box and crossed their fingers to be one of the lucky 30 people to watch the court issue its verdict on the country’s most prominent businessman.
Reflecting the keen public interest in the case, 454 people entered the draw for the 30 seats reserved for the general public in the 150-seat courtroom. The remaining seats were reserved for the accused’s family, lawyers and reporters.
Lee, the only son of Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee, is on trial for bribery in connection with the corruption scandal that led to former President Park Geun-hye’s ouster.
He faces charges of bribery, embezzlement and illegal transfer of assets abroad for paying or promising to pay 43.4 billion won ($38 million) in donations to foundations controlled by Park’s friend Choi Soon-sil and in sports sponsorship to Choi’s horse-riding daughter.
Lee has denied all the charges.
Friday’s court session will begin at 2:30 p.m. Judges will decide whether to convict Samsung’s heir and de facto chief, and if he’s found guilty, will hand down a sentence.
“I wanted to see justice served myself. I think the case was a typical one showing cozy relations between politics and business in the country,” said Han Sook-hyun, a 24-year-old university student. “I hope the court gives a righteous ruling and it paves the way for a more just and fair society.”
Yi Kye-hyang, 54, called the ruling “symbolic” and “historic.”
“Whether Lee is punished is not only a matter for Lee and Samsung Group, but an important matter for the public,” said Yi, who took a half day off to participate in the draw with her two children. “I thought it would teach my children a good lesson.”
“I hope that the sentence hearing will be televised as the public interest is at stake,” she said.
It is not yet decided whether the verdict hearing for Lee and Samsung executives will be televised. According to a recent change in court rules, the sentence hearings deemed crucial for public interest can be broadcast live.
There were also many avid fans for ex-President Park who they believe was falsely accused by liberals and a biased media. They say Samsung Lee couldn’t have bribed Park, since the former leader is not the kind of a person who pursues personal interests. Park is on trial on 18 charges including bribery for making the alleged deal with Lee.
“The ruling must prove Lee and Park’s innocence. I have watched the court proceedings, but they were filled with lies. The trials have been too biased against them,” said Kim Mi-ja, 57, who said she has attended hearings for Lee and Park as a spectator several times.
As a court official picked up 30 pieces of paper and read out numbers to announce who gets a seat at the sentence hearing, there was both excitement and disappointment.
“I could not believe it when he called my number. I feel so good! I appreciate it,” said a 60-something woman, who only gave her surname Park. She cheered and clapped hands as the court official called her number 363.
Some angrily complained about a lack of seats allocated to the public. “Why only 30 citizens are allowed in the courtroom that can house 150 people? Please explain why!” a man in his 60s shouted at the court official.
The court said it had reduced the seats for spectators to maintain order and ensure security.
Special Counsel has sought 12 years in prison for Lee, claiming that the money was a bribe to win the government’s backing of the 2015 merger of Samsung Group’s two affiliates. It viewed the merger as a crucial step for a smooth leadership transition from its ailing Chairman Lee Kun-hee to his only son Lee Jae-yong.
Former President Park, in return for the money, is suspected of having pressured the state-funded National Pension Service, the largest stakeholder in Samsung C&T, to vote in favor of the controversial merger.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org