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Samsung's Lee sentenced to two and half years in jail

Vice chairman returns to prison for bribery case related to ex-President Park

SEOUL -- Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was sentenced on Monday to two and half years in prison for bribery and embezzlement. The scion of South Korea's biggest conglomerate was arrested at court immediately after the ruling.

The Seoul High Court ruled that Lee must serve 30 months in prison for using corporate funds to pay an 8.7 billion won ($7.8 million) bribe to former South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her friend Choi Soon-sil in 2015. The court said the bribe was provided with the unspoken understanding that the National Pension Service would help smooth Lee's succession process by backing the merger of Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T, two affiliates of the group.

Lee has already served one year in prison on these charges. He was freed in 2018 after an appeals court suspended his two-and-half year jail term, but the Supreme Court determined that this sentence was too lenient, as it did not take into account the full scope of the bribes and gifts Lee provided.

"It is very regrettable that Samsung, our country's largest and globally innovative company, is engaged in crimes whenever political powers change," Judge Jeong Joon-young said. "This case is part of the [former president's] corruption scandal, but it is also a bribery and embezzlement case in which Samsung's top management also got involved."

The ruling comes days after the Supreme Court upheld Park's 22-year-jail term for taking bribes from Samsung and other conglomerates along with her friend Choi. President Moon Jae-in earlier today opposed pardoning Park and former President Lee Myung-bak, who is serving a 17-year jail term for other corruption charges, saying it is too early to discuss pardons because their actions seriously damaged the country's interests and hurt the people emotionally.

The court acknowledged Samsung's efforts to improve its governance by launching a compliance committee, but said that was not enough to justify a reduced sentence for Lee. "It is positive that the accused and Samsung are sincere, but we concluded that it would be inappropriate to consider this when deciding his jail term," Judge Jeong said.

Lee's defense team said it was disappointed with the ruling. "The essence of the case is an abuse of power by the former president which hurt a corporation's freedom and property rights," said Lee In-je, an attorney for Lee. "Considering this, the ruling is regrettable."

The attorney said that he will consider appealing to the Supreme Court after reviewing the ruling.

Samsung's share price was down more than 2% in afternoon trading on Monday.

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