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Billionaire South Korean Samsung heir is given a presidential pardon following his jail term

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The South Korean heir to the billionaire Samsung has been given a presidential pardon after being jailed for corruption so he can help deal with the “national economic crisis.”

Lee Jae-yong, 54, the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, is the latest person to receive a presidential pardon, continuing South Korea’s long tradition of releasing business leaders convicted of corruption on economic grounds.

He was convicted of bribery and embezzlement in January last year, but Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon said he had “recovered” to deal with the economic crisis.

According to Forbes, Lee has a net worth of $7.9 billion. The pardon is largely symbolic, as he was already on parole in August 2021 after 18 months in prison for bribery, just over half of his original sentence.

The scandal sparked mass protests and toppled then-President Park Geun-hye in 2017.

The pardon he received on Friday will allow him to return to full-time work and a work restriction after the five-year prison term will be lifted.

Lee Jae-yong, 54, the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, pictured leaving court in 2021, is the latest person to receive a presidential pardon, continuing South Korea's long tradition of releasing business leaders convicted of corruption on economic grounds

Lee Jae-yong, 54, the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, pictured leaving court in 2021, is the latest person to receive a presidential pardon, continuing South Korea’s long tradition of releasing business leaders convicted of corruption on economic grounds

The pardon is largely symbolic, as he was already on parole in August 2021 after 18 months in prison for bribery, just over half of his original sentence.

The pardon is largely symbolic, as he was already on parole in August 2021 after 18 months in prison for bribery, just over half of his original sentence.

The pardon is largely symbolic, as he was already on parole in August 2021 after 18 months in prison for bribery, just over half of his original sentence.

In addition to Lee, three other high-profile businessmen were pardoned, including Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin, who was sentenced in 2018 to a two-and-a-half-year suspended prison term in a bribery case.

In a statement, the Justice Department said: “As a result of the global economic crisis, the dynamism and vitality of the national economy has deteriorated and it is feared that the economic malaise will continue.”

The statement added that Lee, along with other high-level executives, was pardoned so that he could “lead the engine of the country’s continued growth through active investment in technology and job creation.”

According to the ministry, a total of 1,693 people, including inmates with terminal illnesses and those nearing the end of their term, are on the pardon list ahead of the annual Liberation Day commemoration on Monday.

After Lee’s pardon was announced, he issued a statement saying he wants to contribute to the economy through “continued investment and job creation for young people.” Pictured: Lee in 2020

This anniversary marks Japan’s 1945 surrender during World War II, which liberated Korea from decades of colonial rule, and it is celebrated each year with hundreds of prisoners being pardoned.

After Lee’s pardon was announced, he issued a statement saying he wants to contribute to the economy through “continued investment and job creation for young people.”

The 54-year-old had been jailed for crimes related to a massive corruption scandal that toppled former President Park Geun-hye.

He was the latest in a long history of South Korean tycoons charged with bribery, embezzlement, tax evasion or other offenses.

However, many of those convicted have had their sentences reduced or suspended, including the late Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee, who was convicted twice.

The magnates often received presidential pardons in recognition of their “contribution to the national economy.”

The 54-year-old, pictured in 2021, had been jailed for crimes related to a massive corruption scandal that toppled former President Park Geun-hye.

The 54-year-old, pictured in 2021, had been jailed for crimes related to a massive corruption scandal that toppled former President Park Geun-hye.

The 54-year-old, pictured in 2021, had been jailed for crimes related to a massive corruption scandal that toppled former President Park Geun-hye.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said today the pardon was intended to improve the lot of “ordinary people affected by the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic”.

Analysts disagree with the president’s views, and many, including Vladimir Tikhonov, a professor of Korean studies at the University of Oslo, say the grace simply makes big businessmen feel like they aren’t “limited by legal norms.”

Former Conservative President Lee Myung-bak, who is currently serving a prison term for corruption, was expected to benefit from the pardon.

But he is not on the list, as Justice Minister Han said all politicians were excluded this time because the economy was the most “urgent and most important” issue.

Local reports have suggested that forgiving Lee Myung-bak would have been too risky for President Yoon, who is already struggling with record-low approval ratings.

Local reports speculate that pardoning Lee Myung-bak would have been too risky for President Yoon, who is already struggling with record-low approval ratings.

Lee Jae-yong has yet to face a separate trial over allegations of accounting fraud related to a merger of two Samsung companies in 2015.

Lee Jae-yong, pictured, has yet to face separate trial over accounting fraud allegations related to a 2015 merger of two Samsung companies

Lee Jae-yong, pictured, is yet to face separate trial over accounting fraud allegations related to a 2015 merger of two Samsung companies

Lee Jae-yong, pictured, is yet to face separate trial over accounting fraud allegations related to a 2015 merger of two Samsung companies

It comes after he was cleared of a May hearing in that trial to host US President Joe Biden, who, along with President Yoon, began a tour of South Korea with a visit to Samsung’s chip factory.

Lee’s grace comes after Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, with sales of about one-fifth of South Korea’s gross domestic product, unveiled an investment blueprint of 450 trillion won ($346 billion) over the next five years.

The blueprint aims to make Samsung a leader in sectors from semiconductors to biological products and create 80,000 new jobs.

Lee’s jail term was no barrier to the company’s performance — it announced a more than 70 percent increase in second-quarter profits in July last year, as a coronavirus-driven shift to remote work has pushed demand for devices that using its memory chips increased.

Lee's jail term was no barrier to the company's performance — it announced a more than 70 percent increase in second-quarter profits in July last year, as a coronavirus-driven shift to remote work has pushed demand for devices that using its memory chips increased.  Pictured: Lee

Lee's jail term was no barrier to the company's performance — it announced a more than 70 percent increase in second-quarter profits in July last year, as a coronavirus-driven shift to remote work has pushed demand for devices that using its memory chips increased.  Pictured: Lee

Lee’s jail term was no barrier to the company’s performance — it announced a more than 70 percent increase in second-quarter profits in July last year, as a coronavirus-driven shift to remote work has pushed demand for devices that using its memory chips increased. Pictured: Lee

The Samsung group is the largest of the family-controlled empires called chaebol, which dominate business in South Korea.

Mr. Tikhonov said: ‘Samsung has functioned perfectly without any grace.

“The pardon weakens the rule of law, which is potentially disadvantageous rather than beneficial.”

However, a survey conducted by four polls last month found that 77 percent of respondents preferred forgiving Lee, despite previous protests.

Political commentator Eom Kyeong-young, based in Seoul, said: “(That support) is apparently due to the current economic situation, but people also seem to have partly believed that Lee was somewhat in a position where he couldn’t take the pressure off himself. could drop off. of the former administration.

“While business groups including the Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Korea Enterprises Federation welcomed Lee’s pardon, civil rights groups criticized Yoon’s pardon for businessmen.”

Meanwhile, the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said in a statement, “The Yoon Suk-yeol government…