Sam­sung scion fears jail term

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

SEOUL: Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics vice-chair­man Jay Y Lee fought back tears and de­nied wrong­do­ing yes­ter­day as pros­e­cu­tors sought a 12-year jail term on charges that in­clude brib­ing the former pres­i­dent to help ce­ment con­trol of the South Korean tech­nol­ogy 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 led to the oust­ing 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 Au­gust 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, his voice wa­ver­ing. “I deeply re­gret that I have given such dis­ap­point­ment and apol­o­gise.”

Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics of­fered no com­ment re­gard­ing the pros­e­cu­tors’ de­mand.

The com­pany’s shares ended down 0.3% yes­ter­day, 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.

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. He has not been seen in pub­lic since.

Jay Y Lee’s lawyers ar­gued that his 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 late last month.

Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics in­vestors have said their chief in­ter­est in the trial has been how long Lee will stay in de­ten­tion, side­lined from fully par­tic­i­pat­ing in large-scale de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

“Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics is do­ing well now, but will his ab­sence show up in its per­for­mance two, three, five years from now? That’s the ques­tion,” said Park Jung-hoon, fund man­ager at HDC As­set Man­age­ment.

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