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(News Focus) Samsung heir Lee expected to make efforts to regain public confidence

All Headlines 19:17 February 05, 2018

By Kim Kwang-tae

SEOUL, Feb. 5 (Yonhap) -- Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong is expected to make efforts to regain public confidence as he walked out of prison after serving nearly a year over a bribery scandal that led to the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye.

The 49-year-old stood before a swarm of media making a bow in an apparent gesture of apology and gratitude as he left the Seoul Detention Center.

"The past one year has been the most precious time for self-reflection," he told reporters. "I will look at all things more carefully from now on."

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong surrounded by reporters after being released from the Seoul Detention Center on Feb. 5, 2018. (Yonhap)

The Seoul High Court handed down 30 month prison term to the heir of South Korea's biggest family-run conglomerate. Still, the appeals court suspended the sentence for four years, meaning that Lee will not have to serve prison time if he stays out of trouble during that period.

Samsung executives said that Lee's comments during trials could set the tone for managing the conglomerate going forward.

Lee said in an appeals hearing in December that he has been thinking about ways to contribute to society.

Samsung Electronics has been one of the most generous corporate donors in South Korea. The maker of the premium Galaxy S8 smartphone and Note 8 phablet donated a total of 968.1 billion won (US$888.3 million) to various causes in 2015 and 2016.

"We will carry out our social responsibility as a global corporation that can allow us to recover public confidence," a Samsung official said.

Samsung has become a top global company in recent years amid robust earnings in such areas as semiconductors and consumer electronics, though it has long been dogged by negative public perceptions, such as corruption and collusive ties with politicians.

Lee is expected to make public appearances in the coming days. The most high-profile event that he may attend is the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics on Friday.

Samsung is a key sponsor for the PyeongChang Winter Games and a global Top Olympic Partner of the International Olympic Committee. In April 2015, Samsung reached an agreement with PyeongChang worth 100 billion won.

The games, which run through Feb. 25 in the alpine resort town 180 kilometers east of the capital city, is expected to be the biggest in history.

Lee's ailing father -- Lee Kun-hee -- played a key role in South Korea's bid for the winter games in 2011 as a member of the International Olympic Committee.

After his release, Lee said he was heading to hospital to see his father. The elder Lee has been hospitalized since May 2014 when he suffered a heart attack that has made it impossible for him to look after the affairs of the global conglomerate, which have largely fallen on the shoulders of the son.

Samsung Electronics will supply a wide range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops, for athletes and other participants at the PyeongChang Winter Games, under a 2014 partnership with the IOC.

Related to the probation, South Korea's two major business lobbies breathed a collective sigh of relief, stressing that such a move can help the national economy. Samsung accounts for a considerable part of the South Korean economy.

The Federation of Korean Industries, South Korea's biggest business lobby that speaks for large companies, said the court's ruling would have a positive impact on society.

"The ruling could help Samsung recover its confidence and gain direction," said Bae Sang-kun, a senior official at the federation.

There have been concerns that Lee's absence was causing holdups in the making of key decisions at the business group, which could bode ill for the future. Many in the South Korean business community said Lee will likely focus on Samsung Electronics, the conglomerate's main bread earner, and move forward with various investments and mergers deals.

He also expressed hope that Samsung will make more efforts to expand investments and create jobs.

The Korea Employers Federation, another business group that represents the interests of local companies, asked Samsung to contribute to South Korea's economic development through investments and job creation.

With Lee's release, Samsung is expected to soon normalize its leadership vacuum, although the conglomerate has been low key on the matter as a whole.


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