A South Korean court has sentenced the billionaire Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong to five years in prison after finding him guilty of offering bribes to the country’s former president and other crimes.
It said Lee was also guilty of embezzlement, hiding assets overseas, concealing profit from criminal acts, and perjury.
The court said Lee hoped that bribes for Park Geun-hye at the time she was president and her close friend Choi Soon-sil would secure government support for a merger that strengthened Lee’s control over the Samsung empire and its flagship Samsung Electronics at a crucial time.
The sentence will also affect the trial of Park who will also likely face a prison sentence.
Prosecutors were seeking a sentence of 12 years, arguing that over $30 million was paid as bribes, and will likely appeal.
A lawyer for Lee said the defence team would not accept the court ruling to jail Lee for five years for bribery and will appeal against the decision.
“We are confident the ruling will be overturned,” lawyer Song Wu-cheol told reporters after the ruling by the Seoul Central District Court.
Samsung has consistently denied the charges since Lee’s arrest, saying the payments to the Choi-controlled foundations was for public good and to help sporting organisations.
However, the judge said Lee likely knew the foundation was “not a conventional one” and that the payments would be spent to buy horses for Choi’s equestrian-competing daughter.
The judge also said that the vice-chairman and his lieutenants would have known that the payments would be helpful in the merger that saw Lee’s control over the conglomerate increase.
The payments were made through Samsung Electronics to Germany, therefore it accounted for embezzlement and hiding assets overseas.
The judge accepted that around $7 million were proven bribes. The vice chairman got five years “as the biggest beneficiary” of the bribes and his top two lieutenants were each sentenced to four years for making the decisions.
Lee denied knowing Choi in a hearing by the national assembly, South Korea’s parliament, last year when the scandal was unfolding, but the judge said he had received a report about her by then.
The vice-chairman has been the de facto boss of Samsung since his father, chairman Lee Kun-hee, was hospitalized following a heart attack in 2015.
He is the first member of the controlling Lee family to be jailed. Lee was arrested in February and will now be in prison pending a trial in the appellate court.
The trial caused delay in Samsung’s annual reshuffle and his long absence will likely have the group continue its CEO management plan up to the end of the year.
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