Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong is acquitted of financial crimes related to 2015 merger
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean court on Monday acquitted Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong of financial crimes involving a contentious merger between Samsung affiliates in 2015 that tightened his grip over South Korea’s biggest company.
The ruling by the Seoul Central District Court could ease the legal troubles surrounding the Samsung heir less than two years after he was pardoned of a separate conviction of bribery in a corruption scandal that helped topple a previous South Korean government.
The court said the prosecution failed to sufficiently prove the merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries was unlawfully conducted with an aim to strengthen Lee’s control over Samsung Electronics.
The ruling was criticized by activists, progressive politicians and commentators, who questioned how Lee could be innocent of all charges when he had previously been convicted in the separate case of bribing a former president while seeking government support for the merger. The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, South Korea’s biggest civic group, said the court failed to display “even a minimal level of social justice” by putting Lee’s interests before those of shareholders and pensioners, whose retirement funds were possibly reduced by the deal, which was endorsed by the National Pension Service.
It described the ruling as a setback for years of efforts to reform the management culture of South Korea’s family-owned conglomerates and their cozy ties with the government. South Korean corporate leaders often receive relatively lenient punishments for corruption, business irregularities and other crimes, with judges often citing concerns over the country’s economy.
Prosecutors had sought a five-year jail