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In South Korea, Samsung billionaire Lee Jae-yong acquitted in succession suit related to 2015 merger

Samsung Electronics Co. Executive Chairman Lee Jae-yong scored an important victory on Monday after a Seoul court acquitted him of stock manipulation charges, allowing the billionaire to keep leading a conglomerate under threat from rivals old and new.

The acquittal lifts a weight off the world’s largest maker of memory chips and displays, which is struggling with a global downturn and a stiff challenge from Apple Inc. in smartphones and SK Hynix Inc. in the nascent field of AI. The surprise decision finally removes the threat of jail time that’s dogged one of Korea’s most prominent businesspeople for years.

A Seoul Central District Court judge delivered the verdict after about an hour’s recitation of the ruling, focusing on whether Lee manipulated the 2015 merger of Samsung C&T Corp. and Cheil Industries Inc. to gain influence and improper benefit.

On Monday, the judge pointed out a litany of inadequacies in the case, including inadmissible evidence and a lack of proof about Lee’s intentions or that Samsung and Lee misled shareholders.

Samsung’s shares finished 1.2 per cent lower after the verdict was handed down. An expressionless Lee left the courtroom without speaking with reporters. His lawyers said in a statement they felt this vindicated the handling of the controversial 2015 deal and thanked the court.

“The ruling reflects the economic sentiment,” said Kim Sung-soo, who teaches political science at Seoul’s Hanyang University.

“There are people who don’t want to shackle Korea’s biggest company, though there will be people who will raise questions about justice.”

Lee, 55, was embroiled for years in legal struggles that rocked the tech establishment and triggered a political scandal that led to the impeachment of former