Samsung vice chairman Lee Jae-yong —known in the West as Jay Y. Lee— will be released from prison Friday after South Korea’s justice ministry granted him parole, the Financial Times reported. The billionaire heir to the Samsung empire, Lee, 53, had served six months of a 30-month prison sentence for offering bribes to South Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye.
Lee was first sent to prison in 2017 in the succession scandal that led to Park’s removal. He was accused of offering payments and horses as bribes to a friend of the former president to try to garner support for his succession at Samsung. Lee served just one year of a five-year sentence before a retrial was ordered in 2019. He was ordered back to prison in January.
In December, Lee offered a rare public apology for the succession plot. Bloomberg reported that Justice Minister Park Beom-kye said Monday that Lee’s “attitude during incarceration,” along with public sentiment and the economic impact of COVID-19 were all factors in the decision to grant Lee’s parole.
That public opinion includes recent polls that show South Koreans mostly favored Lee’s release from prison, as did business leaders and members of President Moon Jae-in’s government, the Associated Press reported. Moon has not commented on Lee’s release, but his office has said such a decision would be up to the justice ministry. Moon’s party is working to build support ahead of presidential elections in March, and Lee’s release is expected to work in his favor; as one political consultant told the AP, some 5 million South Koreans own shares in Samsung.
According to The Wall Street Journal, it’s unclear how Lee, the grandson of Samsung’s founder, will be able to resume his work at the company once he’s released: South Korean law imposes a five-year employment ban on people who commit economic crimes, and people on parole are restricted from traveling overseas. Lee would need to seek an exemption from the employment restriction.
And following his release, Lee still could face jail time again, in a case involving a $3.9 billion accounting fraud at a Samsung subsidiary. The WSJ reports Lee could also face charges for allegedly abusing the sedative propofol. Lee has denied all charges.
In July, Samsung released its second-quarter earnings, which showed a 20 percent uptick in revenue and a 54 percent increase in operating profit from the year-ago quarter.