South Korean prosecutors have recommended a 12-year jail term for Lee Jae-yong, 49-year-old billionaire heir of the Samsung business empire, urging a court to convict him of bribery and other crimes.
Lee, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, became emotional Monday as he denied ever trying to seek political favors in his final remarks in the four-month-long trial. Lee was arrested in February amid a tumultuous corruption scandal that triggered months of massive public protests and culminated with the ouster of South Korea’s president.
A panel of three judges at the Seoul Central District Court said they will hand down their verdict on Aug. 25.
Lee, princeling of South Korea’s richest family and its biggest company, choked up during his final remarks, saying his ordeal was unjust but he had reflected during his six months in jail and realized that the bigger Samsung became, “the stricter and higher the expectations from the public and the society,” a pool report from Monday’s hearing said.
“Whether it was for my personal profit or for myself, I have never asked the president for any favors,” he told the court.
In his remarks wrapping up the trial, Special Prosecutor Park Young Soo said Samsung’s alleged bribery was typical of the corrupt and cozy ties between the South Korea’s government and big businesses. Such dealings once helped fuel the country’s rapid industrialization but now increasingly are viewed as illegal and unfair.
Park also accused Samsung officials of lying in their testimonies to protect Lee.
In past cases, South Korean courts have often given suspended prison terms to members of the founding families of the chaebol, the big, family-controlled businesses that dominate South Korea’s economy. In some cases, presidents have pardoned them, citing their contributions to the national economy. But recent rulings on white collar crimes have shown less leniency. If convicted, Lee may be the first in his family to serve a prison term.
Lee was indicted in February on charges that included offering $38 million in bribes to four entities controlled by a friend of then-President Park Geun-hye, including a company in Germany set up to support equestrian training for the daughter of one of Park’s friends, Choi Soon-sil.
Prosecutors alleged the bribes were offered in exchange for government help with a merger that strengthened Lee’s control over Samsung at a crucial time for organizing a smooth leadership transition after his father fell ill.
Park was removed from office in March and is being tried separately. Her friend Choi also is on trial.
Lee has denied all charges. He has said he did not know of Choi or her daughter before the scandal grabbed national headlines and said Samsung’s succession situation was not discussed during three meetings he held with the former president.
Samsung’s lawyers do not contest having donated a large sum of money to the entities controlled by Choi. They disagreed with the prosecutors about the nature of the funds and insisted that at the time the donations were made Samsung was unaware that Choi controlled them.
Prosecutors also are seeking heavy penalties for four other former Samsung executives who had belonged to a once-powerful corporate strategy office that handled such activities. Prosecutors are seeing a 10-year sentence for Lee’s mentor Choi Gee-sung, a former vice chairman at Samsung Electronics. They requested seven to 10-year terms for three other former Samsung executives.
Separately, South Korean police officials confirmed Monday that they are investigating Lee’s father and Samsung chair Lee Kun-hee, who is ill in the hospital, on allegations of embezzlement and a tax law violation. Police officials raided the office that oversaw interior decorating of the elder Lee’s private house in central Seoul.