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Samsung Billionaire's 3 Years of Freedom Are Over

Lee Jae-yong's retrial in S. Korea corruption scandal earns him 2.5 years more in prison
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 18, 2021 8:17 AM CST

(Newser) – Billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong was sent back to prison on Monday after a South Korean court handed him a 2.5-year sentence for his involvement in a 2016 corruption scandal that spurred massive protests and ousted South Korea's then-president. In a much-anticipated retrial, the Seoul High Court found Lee guilty of bribing then-President Park Geun-hye and her close confidant to win government support for a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates, per the AP. The deal helped strengthen his control over the country's largest business group. The lawyers for Lee, 52—who helms the Samsung group in his capacity as vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, one of the world's largest makers of computer chips and smartphones—had portrayed him as a victim of presidential power abuse and described the 2015 deal as part of "normal business activity."

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Lee was originally sentenced in 2017 to five years in prison for offering $7 million in bribes to Park and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. But he was freed after 11 months in February 2018 when the Seoul High Court reduced his term to 2.5 years and suspended his sentence, overturning key convictions and reducing the amount of his bribes. It isn't immediately clear what this new prison term will mean for Samsung. The company didn’t show much signs of trouble during the previous time Lee spent in jail in 2017 and 2018. A Lee attorney expressed regret over the court's decision, saying that the "essence of the case is that a former president abused power to infringe upon the freedom and property rights of a private company." He didn't say whether Lee would appeal, and Samsung hasn't issued a statement. The Supreme Court last week confirmed a 20-year prison sentence for Park, while Choi is serving an 18-year prison sentence, both for bribery and other charges.

(Read more Lee Jae-yong stories.)

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