The South Korean court acquitted Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s top executive, on charges of stock price manipulation and accounting fraud after finding insufficient evidence to prove the prosecutors’ charges. Lee’s legal troubles were tied to a merger that helped him secure control of the nation’s largest company. Prosecutors had sought a five-year prison sentence and a fine of 500 million won against Lee, who denied any wrongdoing. The prosecution has the option to appeal the decision to a higher court, but as of now, neither Samsung nor the prosecutors’ office has commented on the verdict.
Samsung is the largest and most successful of the South Korean conglomerates known as chaebol. They have played a significant role in transforming the country’s economy. However, the latest ruling has sparked concerns about the fairness of the country’s markets and the credibility of its judiciary. Business experts in South Korea have expressed surprise at the verdict, stating it raises questions about the power of chaebol in the country.
The legal saga of Lee Jae-yong began when former President Park Geun-hye was impeached in 2016 on charges of collecting bribes from companies such as Samsung. Later, Lee was arrested on charges of bribing Ms. Park and her confidante, Choi Soon-sil, to win the government’s support for a 2015 merger of two Samsung subsidiaries. After a retrial on bribery charges, Lee was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, but was later released on parole. Despite the legal battles, Samsung continued to thrive, with its electronics arm, Samsung Electronics, accounting for about one-sixth of the country’s exports.