Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong lying low after jail release

Mr Lee Jae Yong, vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics, speaking to the media after his release from the Seoul Detention Centre in South Korea last Monday.
Mr Lee Jae Yong, vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics, speaking to the media after his release from the Seoul Detention Centre in South Korea last Monday.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Samsung and the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics go together.

Special edition Samsung Galaxy Note 8 phones were given as souvenirs to athletes gathered in South Korea for the ongoing games.

The electronic giant is not just a major partner, but its group chairman Lee Kun Hee had played a pivotal role in helping to lobby for South Korea to host the games.

It is no wonder that local media were expecting Mr Lee's son and heir Lee Jae Yong to attend the opening ceremony of the Games on Friday - after he was controversially released from jail last Monday.

Analysts say the no-show is a sign of the challenges facing Samsung as it sets about rebuilding its image, which has been tarnished by the younger Mr Lee's involvement in a corruption scandal that toppled former president Park Geun Hye.

The 49-year-old tycoon was sentenced to five years' jail for bribery and corruption last year but, last Monday, an appeals court halved his sentence and suspended it.

The court ruled that Mr Lee Jae Yong gave 3.6 billion won (S$4.4 million) to Park's confidante Choi Soon Sil because he was threatened by Park - and not to seek favours from her administration for a controversial merger in 2015 to consolidate his control over the Samsung empire.

DAMAGE CONTROL

The Samsung PR machine will focus on highlighting how he's working very hard to contribute to the Samsung group... to bring business back and make investments.

BUSINESS PROFESSOR CHANG SEA JIN, from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology on painting Mr Lee Jae Yong in a positive light upon his return.

But the court's decision immediately sparked a public backlash.

The ruling Democratic Party cried foul over the "deep-rooted abuse" in the judiciary system. There are also concerns that the ruling might affect the ongoing trial for Park, who faces 18 charges including corruption and abuse of power.

Mr Lee Jae Yong, who is vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics, appears to be lying low for now.

Besides public anger over his release, Samsung is also feeling the heat from a new probe into the slush funds of patriarch, Mr Lee.

 

These developments look to have foiled plans for the younger Mr Lee to return to work as soon as possible and restore public faith in South Korea's largest conglomerate.

Experts said Samsung will soon launch a massive public relations campaign to build goodwill and paint Mr Lee Jae Yong in a positive light. The conglomerate is also expected to make major announcements that were stalled due to his absence, as well as embark on reforms to get rid of collusive links between business and politics that landed Mr Lee Jae Yong in jail.

IDC Asia-Pacific research manager Tay Xiaohan told The Sunday Times Mr Lee Jae Yong's priority would be to examine the company's strategic direction and expand its businesses in mobile phones as well as memory chips, microchips and screens.

"His return would have some impact on the launch of the Note 9," she said, referring to a new model of Samsung's flagship phablet.

Business professor Chang Sea Jin from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology said Mr Lee Jae Yong needs to do damage control. He said: "The Samsung PR machine will focus on highlighting how he's working very hard to contribute to the Samsung group... to bring business back and make investments."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 11, 2018, with the headline 'Samsung heir lying low after jail release'. Print Edition | Subscribe