Samsung scion chokes back tears as South Korean prosecutors seek 12-year jail term

South Korean prosecutors have announced they're seeking a 12-year prison sentence for Samsung chief Jay Y Lee, a figure at the heart a major national scandal.
Samsung Electronics Vice-Chairman Lee Jae Yong has been in detention since February, but denies any wrongdoing.
Samsung Electronics Vice-Chairman Lee Jae Yong has been in detention since February, but denies any wrongdoing. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - Samsung Electronics Vice-Chairman Lee Jae Yong fought back tears and denied wrongdoing on Monday (Aug 7) as prosecutors sought a 12-year jail term on charges that include bribing the former president to help cement control over the South Korean tech giant.

Lee, the de facto leader of one of Asia’s largest conglomerates, has been in detention since February on trial for charges ranging from embezzlement to perjury, in a scandal that gripped the country for months and led to the ouster of former president Park Geun Hye.

He will face the longest prison term on record for a South Korean conglomerate executive if the court finds him guilty when it makes a ruling on Aug 25, two days before Lee’s current period of detention ends.

Other charges he faces include wrongfully transferring assets overseas and hiding the proceeds of a crime.

“I have never asked anyone, including the president, for anything for the company or my personal gain,” said Lee in a final statement, his voice wavering. He stopped several times during his speech, holding back tears.

“I deeply regret that I have given such disappointment and apologise,” he said.

Samsung Electronics offered no comment regarding the prosecutors’ demand. The company’s shares ended down 0.3 per cent on Monday, erasing minimal gains seen early in the session.

 

 

The prosecution has said Samsung’s intent in paying up for two funds backed by Park, and sponsoring the equestrian career of the daughter of a confidante at the centre of the scandal, was to get government support for efforts to cement Lee’s control of the smartphones-to-biopharmaceuticals empire.

“Even though Lee is the ultimate receiver of the gains (from this bribery case), he has been pushing the blame on others accused,” prosecutor Park Young Soo told the court.

Mr Park also sought jail terms for other Samsung executives related to the case, including 10 years for Choi Gee Sung, former head of Samsung’s corporate strategy office.

The defence reiterated Lee’s denial of wrongdoing, questioning whether the prosecution was relying on public sentiment to secure a prison term for Lee, 49, whose father, the group patriarch Lee Kun Hee, was hospitalised in 2014.

Lee’s lawyers argued that his so-called overarching intention of cementing ownership control was “a fictional construct” made up by prosecutors, with moves such as the merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 aimed merely at ensuring survival and growth of individual companies.

In Lee’s absence, Samsung Electronics reported record quarterly earnings in late July.