The country’s largest conglomerate Samsung has been left unsure of what its future holds as its de facto chief faces possible jail time for corruption.
Whether or not Lee Jae-yong will be put behind bars again in the finale of a three-year court saga, leaving a void at the top of the world’s No. 1 chipmaker, will be decided by a Seoul court in January.
Samsung Electronics on Wednesday appeared calm, at least on the surface, after local prosecutors demanded nine years in prison for its vice chairman Lee Jae-yong in retrial of a bribery case involving former President Park Geun-hye.
Considering that the Supreme Court in 2019 dismissed some of his charges, the prosecutors demanded a 9-year imprisonment, which was cut from 12 years in the first and second trials.
Lee still faces charges of bribing the former president‘s longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, in order to get the government’s help in succeeding his father and securing control of Samsung Group.
The 3.4 billion won ($3.1 million) used to purchase horses for Choi’s daughter and a donation to the sports foundation should be considered bribes, the Supreme Court said as it overturned the appellate court’s ruling in August 2019.
He was initially sentenced to five years in prison in 2017, but was freed the following year after an appellate court reduced the term to two and half years, suspended for four years.
In his final statement during the retrial, Lee said, "I had to sit down with former President Park while I was in a difficult situation after my father suddenly collapsed. I will never repeat such an act again."
"I want to make a new Samsung that fits the country's status, and repay my respected father," he added.
Samsung did not make any official comment on the issue, while bracing for the final ruling expected to be made on Jan. 18.
“It is still cautious to talk about mentioning sentence suspension,” a Samsung official said.
With the prosecutors’ demand, it is less likely that Samsung would lose its leader again next year, due to the high likelihood of suspension.
However, the tech giant is preparing measures for every possible scenario in order to minimize the impact of owner risks on its business in 2021, a senior official explained.
Following his father‘s death in October, Vice Chairman Lee is expected to be promoted to chairman after the retrial ends.
By Song Su-hyun (email@example.com