South Korean prosecutors today demanded the heir to the Samsung empire be jailed for 12 years over his role in the corruption scandal that brought down the country’s last president.
At the final hearing in the trial of Lee Jae-Yong, the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, prosecutors called him the “ultimate beneficiary” of crimes committed in the scandal, which culminated in the impeachment and dismissal of president Park Geun-Hye.
If the judges convict him and agree with the sentence recommendation it will be among the harshest penalties ever passed on a top executive of a chaebol, the business groups
that dominate Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
Lee and four other executives of Samsung — the world’s biggest smartphone maker and the country’s biggest firm — are accused of bribing Park’s powerful confidante with millions of dollars to win presidential favours and ease a controversial 2015 merger deal.
“The defendants were closely tied to power and sought personal gains,” the prosecutors said.
They sought a 12-year sentence for Lee, who is also charged with embezzlement and hiding assets overseas among other offences, 10-year terms for three of his co-accused, and seven years for the last of the defendants in the trial.
Taking the stand for the first time in his defence last week, Lee claimed that he had no role in decision-making at the wider Samsung group and “mostly listened to other executives”.
His lawyers say the allegations were unjustified and the defendants never sought anything in return for the money that was donated.
The verdicts are expected later this month.
Lee, 49, has effectively been at the helm of Samsung, which has revenues equivalent to about a fifth of the country’s GDP, since his father was left bedridden by a heart attack in 2014.
One of the favours Lee allegedly sought from Park was state approval for a controversial merger of two Samsung units in 2015, seen as a key step to ensuring a smooth power transfer to him.
The deal was opposed by many shareholders who said it had wilfully undervalued shares of one of the two firms. But it eventually went through after the national pension fund — a major Samsung shareholder — approved it.
“The special prosecutors failed to give any evidence for the existence of such a succession operation,” Lee’s lawyers argued at Monday’s hearing. If Lee is found guilty it will be a blow for Park, who is on trial separately on 18 charges including bribery, coercion and abuse of power following her dismissal from office in March.
Park was formally impeached after public uproar over her questionable ties with confidante Choi Soon-Sil sparked mass nationwide protests for months.
Choi is also on trial for using her presidential ties to force top South Korean firms including Samsung to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations which she controlled.