Back To Top

[Newsmaker] Samsung on high alert ahead of Supreme Court ruling in bribery case against Lee

Amid the harsh trade and market conditions surrounding South Korea’s largest conglomerate, Samsung Electronics, the company is on high alert as the country’s highest court is set to rule this week on a bribery scandal involving Samsung’s heir and the former president.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to deliver a final verdict Thursday at 2 p.m. in the cases of former President Park Geun-hye, her confidante Choi Soon-sil and Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong.

The top court will decide whether to uphold or dismiss a lower court ruling sentencing Park and Choi to 25 and 20 years in prison, respectively. It will also decide whether to uphold an appeals court ruling that saw Lee’s five-year sentence reduced to 2 1/2 years, suspended for four years.

“We are at one of the most critical moments that will determine our future business activities,” said a high-ranking official at Samsung.

The Supreme Court is set to deliver its rulings in the cases of Park, Choi and Lee. If it upholds earlier rulings in all three cases, the entire legal process surrounding the presidential scandal will have wrapped up three years after it began. The court has permitted live broadcasting of the rulings, on the grounds that it is in the public’s interest.

The rulings, in essence, will hinge on how the court views the three horses Choi’s daughter received from Samsung. Another crucial detail is whether Samsung made specific requests of Park and Choi regarding Lee’s management succession.

Park was charged with conspiring with Choi to force big conglomerates, including top conglomerate Samsung Group, to donate 77.4 billion won to two foundations under Choi’s control.

All the previous rulings reflected different judgments. The latest appeals court rulings in Park and Choi’s cases held that the horses were implicit bribes from Samsung, but the second ruling in favor of Lee deemed that Samsung had no agenda at the time of the meeting in question, and therefore no unlawful solicitation had taken place. Lee was acquitted of most of the key charges against him by the appeals court, but convicted over a donation worth 3.6 billion won ($2.96 million) that enabled Choi’s daughter to ride horses. Lee was released upon the ruling.

Even if the highest court views the three horses as bribes, Lee’s punishment could be mitigated, so he can still avoid additional time behind bars.

Regardless of the upcoming decision, Lee appears to be continuing his on-site management of Samsung affiliates. 

Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong looks at a display product at Samsung Display's corporate campus in Asan, South Chungcheong Province on Monday. (Samsung Electronics)
Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong looks at a display product at Samsung Display's corporate campus in Asan, South Chungcheong Province on Monday. (Samsung Electronics)

In the wake of the trade dispute with Japan, the Samsung vice chairman has tightened his grip on the key business of Samsung affiliates in areas ranging from semiconductors to displays, batteries and other electronic parts.

On Monday Lee headed to Asan, South Chungcheong Province, to visit Samsung Display’s organic light-emitting diode panel production line, which is churning out foldable displays for the new Samsung Galaxy Fold.

“Crises and opportunities come and go all the time,” Lee said. “Despite the difficulty in the LCD business, we should spur efforts to develop new technologies to lead the future.”

By Song Su-hyun (