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(4th LD) Samsung heir Lee sentenced to 5 years in prison

All Headlines 17:35 August 25, 2017

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By Chang Jae-soon

SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- A Seoul court sentenced Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong to five years in prison Friday, finding him guilty of bribery, embezzlement and other charges in a massive corruption scandal that led to the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye.

The Seoul Central District Court handed down the verdict, convicting Lee of involvement in Samsung's provision of 7.2 billion won (US$6.38 million) in bribes for the equestrian training of the daughter of Park's longtime friend and confidante Choi Soon-sil.

Prosecutors had demanded a 12-year jail term for Lee on charges of offering or pledging 43.3 billion won of bribes to win the government's blessing for a merger of two Samsung units under terms designed to increase his control over the entire Samsung empire so as to cement a power transfer from his ailing father Lee Kun-hee.

"The crux of this case is close collusion between political and capital powers," the court said in the verdict. "It appears to be difficult for the people to recover from disappointment in that collusive ties between the president and a large conglomerate existed not in the past, but in the present."

The court also said that Lee was in a position to gain the most from the collusion, even though he and other defendants passively accepted Park's demands rather than proactively asking for favors and providing bribes.

"This is a case in which Samsung executives... provided a large amount of money in bribes to the president, who has the final say in economic policy, in anticipation of help in the succession process," the court said.

The verdict represents one of the heaviest ever to be handed out to the head of a major conglomerate in South Korea. It is expected to deal a blow to the image of the global electronics giant amid a prolonged leadership vacuum.

Lee, who has been under presentencing detention since February, was also convicted of embezzlement, hiding assets overseas, concealment of criminal proceeds and perjury, all stemming from the corruption scandal that rocked South Korea for months and ultimately forced Park out of office.

Lee has denied all charges against him and is expected to appeal the decision.

Lee and his lawyers have claimed that Lee was neither involved in nor knew of Samsung's decision to offer the money, and other top executives made the call for fear of retaliation from Park and Choi. Lee also claimed that he never sought any government favors when he met with Park one-on-one three times.

But the court did not accept the arguments, saying Lee delivered to other executives Park's demand for donations to the equestrian training of Choi's 20-year-old daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, and the executives reported about the donations to him.

"After all, it can be sufficiently recognized that (Lee) committed crimes in collusion with other defendants," the court said.

Lee, in a dark navy suit without a tie, showed no change in emotion on his face as the verdict was read.

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong is escorted to a courtroom after arriving at the Seoul Central District Court on Aug. 25, 2017. (Yonhap)

Four other former top Samsung executives were also convicted.

Choi Gee-sung, former head of Samsung's now-disbanded control tower Future Strategy Office, and his former deputy Chang Choong-ki were both sentenced to four years in prison, while Park Sang-jin, a former president of Samsung Electronics, and another former President Hwang Sung-soo were sentenced to suspended terms.

Choi and Chang were immediately arrested on the ruling.

Friday's verdict is closely linked to ousted former President Park because Lee's conviction of bribery charges means that Park can also be found guilty. She was arrested in late March on a string of charges, including bribe-taking.

The case has also been seen as a litmus test of the tolerance South Korean courts have toward owners of family-run chaebol. In many corruption cases in the past, courts often sentenced tycoons to suspended or light terms, citing their contribution to the country's economy.

About 800 riot police were deployed around the Seoul Central District Court to prevent possible clashes between opposing groups of protesters that plan to hold rallies, one calling for Lee's punishment and the other for his release.

Police were also standing guard at the entrances of the courthouse to make sure that protesters didn't get in. A warning sign was set up inside the building that courthouse disturbances are subject to criminal punishment.

Courtroom 417 is also where Lee's father, Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, stood trial in 2008 on charges of evading taxes and illegally transferring company assets to his son and heir. He was sentenced to a suspended prison term at the time.

The elder Lee has been bedridden for more than three years since suffering a heart attack in 2014.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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