SEOUL: The billionaire head of South Korea’s Samsung Group, Jay Y. Lee, was jailed for five years for bribery on Friday after a six-month trial over a scandal that brought down the president.
Lee had paid bribes in anticipation of favours from then president Park Geun-hye, according to a landmark ruling by a Seoul court, which also found him guilty of hiding assets abroad, embezzlement and perjury.
Lee, the 49-year-old heir to one of the world’s biggest corporate empires, has been held since February on charges that he bribed Park to help secure control of a conglomerate that owns Samsung Electronics, the world’s leading smartphone and chip maker, and has interests ranging from drugs and home appliances to insurance and hotels.
Lee denied wrongdoing. One of his lawyers, Song Wu-cheol, said Lee would appeal the lower court ruling.
“The entire verdict is unacceptable,” Song said, adding that he was confident his client’s innocence would be affirmed by a higher court.
Under South Korean law, sentences of more than three years cannot be suspended. The five-year sentence is one of the longest prison terms given to a South Korean business leader.
The Seoul Central District Court said Samsung’s financial support of entities backed by Park’s close friend, Choi Soon-sil, constituted bribery, including 7.2 billion won (US$6.4 million) in sponsoring the equestrian career of Choi’s daughter.
In return for the contributions, prosecutors say, Samsung sought government support for a controversial 2015 merger of two of its affiliates, which helped Lee tighten his control over the conglomerate.
His lawyers had argued that the merger was done on business merits but the court did not accept that.