Samsung heir sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for bribery

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong is questioned by reporters upon his arrival at the Seoul High Court in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 18, 2021. (AP Photo)

Billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong is heading back to prison after a South Korean court sentenced him to 2 1/2 years over his involvement in a 2016 corruption scandal that spurred massive protests and ousted South Korea’s then-president.

In a much-anticipated retrial Monday, the Seoul High Court found Lee guilty of bribing then-President Park Geun-hye and her close confidante to win government support for a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates. The deal helped strengthen his control over the country’s largest business group.

Lee’s lawyers had portrayed him as a victim of presidential power abuse and described the 2015 deal as part of “normal business activity.” It wasn’t immediately known whether he would appeal. Prosecutors had sought a nine-year prison term for Lee.

Lee helms the Samsung group in his capacity as vice president of Samsung Electronics, one of the world’s largest makers of computer chips and smartphones.

Lee, 52, was sentenced in 2017 to five years in prison for offering 8.6 billion won ($7 million) in bribes to Park and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. But he was freed in early 2018 after the Seoul High Court reduced his term to 2 1/2 years and suspended his sentence, overturning key convictions and reducing the amount of his bribes.

Park and Choi are serving prison terms of 22 years and 18 years, respectively.

In 2019, the Supreme Court returned the case to the high court, ruling that the amount of Lee’s bribes had been undervalued. It said the money that Samsung spent to purchase three racehorses used by Choi’s equestrian daughter and to fund a winter sports foundation run by Choi’s niece also should be considered bribes.