The heir and de facto leader of Samsung group, Lee Jae-yong received a presidential pardon Friday, the latest example of South Korea’s long tradition of freeing business leaders convicted of corruption on economic grounds.
Billionaire Lee Jae-yong, who was convicted of bribery and embezzlement in January last year, will be “reinstated” to give him a chance to “contribute to overcoming the economic crisis” of the country, Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon said.
Lee — the 278th-richest person in the world, according to Forbes, with a net worth of $7.9 billion — was released on parole in August 2021, after serving 18 months in jail, just over half of his original sentence.
Friday’s pardon will allow him to fully return to work by lifting a post-prison employment restriction that had been set for five years.
“Due to the global economic crisis, the dynamism and vitality of the national economy have deteriorated, and the economic slump is feared to be prolonged,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.
The pardon was given so that Lee — as well as other high-level executives receiving pardons Friday — could “lead the country’s continuous growth engine through active investment in technology and job creation,” the ministry added.
Lee, 54, was pardoned along with three other businessmen, including Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin, who was sentenced to a suspended two-and-half-year prison term in a bribery case in 2018.
A total of 1,693 people — including prisoners with terminal illnesses and those near the end of their terms — were on the pardon list, the ministry said, ahead of the annual Liberation Day anniversary Monday.
The anniversary marks Japan’s 1945 World War II surrender, which liberated Korea from decades of colonial rule and is typically celebrated each year with the pardon of hundreds of prisoners.