Samsung’s disgraced heir just got a ‘get out of jail free’ card

Lee is the latest crooked exec that South Korea has failed to hold accountable -- and his release doesn’t bode well for the country’s global business reputation.

Last August, Samsung’s de facto leader, Lee Jae-yong, was sentenced to 5 years in prison for his role in a massive bribery scandal that ended with the impeachment of the South Korean president.

But yesterday, in a less-than-shocking twist, his sentence was suspended, and he walked away a free man.

Lee is the latest in a long line of crooked business execs that South Korea has failed to hold accountable — and his early release doesn’t bode well for the country’s global business reputation.

It started with Choi-gate

The scandal Lee was involved in, dubbed “Choi-gate,” unraveled back in late 2016, when Choi Soon-sil, a top advisor to ex-South Korean President Park Geun-hye, was accused of bribing businesses with favors in exchange for donations to a “nonprofit” foundation.

Lee — then Samsung’s heir apparent — was found guilty of “donating” more than $27m to Choi’s foundation (including a $900k horse and equestrian training for Choi’s daughter) in exchange for a sign-off on a big merger.

Too big for justice

Initially, Lee was handed a 5-year prison sentence — and for once, it seemed South Korea’s corrupt business leaders would finally have to face the music.

But alas, that was wishful thinking: yesterday, an appeals court reduced Lee’s sentence from 5 to 2.5 years, then, to the chagrin of protesters, suspended it altogether.

It’s a common tale in South Korea’s business landscape

South Korea’s economy is highly dependant on a group of family-run conglomerates, or “chaebol” (“wealth clique” in Korean).

The 10 biggest chaebol own more than a quarter of Korea’s business assets; Samsung, the largest smartphone maker in the world, is the crown jewel.

Corruption is rampant in the chaebol world, and over the years, many executives (including Lee’s father) have been tried in the courts for bribery. And, like Lee, the majority of these execs end up with suspended sentences, free to return to their businesses.

Lee will likely return to his post — and Samsung’ll keep on singin’.

Get the 5-minute roundup you’ll actually read in your inbox​

Business and tech news in 5 minutes or less​

RECENT POSTS

Psst

How'd Bezos build a billion dollar empire?

In 1994, Jeff Bezos discovered a shocking stat: Internet usage grew 2,300% per year.

Data shows where markets are headed.

And that’s why we built Trends — to show you up-and-coming market opportunities about to explode. Interested?

[email-submission-form button-text="Join Free" include-trends-opt-in="true" success-url="https://thehustle.co/new-thank-you-v2/" default-source="thehustleco" default-medium="home-exit-popup" default-campaign="home-page" form-id="exit-popup-general" optinmonster-conversion="true"]
<script type="text/javascript"> var onloadCallback = function() { grecaptcha.render('verify-your-humanity', { 'sitekey' : '6LdddrcZAAAAALyttpvOqiwQGwq5BNhgDz4tMQGE' }); }; function getCookieValue(a) { var b = document.cookie.match('(^|[^;]+)\\s*' + a + '\\s*=\\s*([^;]+)'); return b ? atob(decodeURIComponent(b.pop())) : ''; } function getCookie(name) { var cookieArr = document.cookie.split(";"); for(var i = 0; i < cookieArr.length; i++) { var cookiePair = cookieArr[i].split("="); if(name == cookiePair[0].trim()) { return decodeURIComponent(cookiePair[1]); } } return null; } function setHiddenFieldValue(wrappingDiv, searchParams, className, utmName, cookieName, defaultValue) { var el = wrappingDiv.getElementsByClassName(className)[0]; var existingVal = el.getAttribute('value'); if (utmName == 'ref') { var newVal = searchParams.get(utmName) || getCookie(cookieName); } else { var newVal = searchParams.get(utmName) || getCookieValue(cookieName); } if ((existingVal == null || existingVal == '' || existingVal == defaultValue) && (newVal != null && newVal != '')) { el.setAttribute('value', newVal); } } function setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm( wrappingDiv, searchParams, className, utmName, defaultValue ) { var el = wrappingDiv.getElementsByClassName(className)[0]; if (el != null) { var existingVal = el.getAttribute("value"); var newVal = searchParams.get(utmName); if (newVal != null && newVal != "") { el.setAttribute("value", newVal); } } } function initForm() { var wrappingDivs = document.getElementsByClassName('email-submission'); Array.prototype.forEach.call(wrappingDivs,wrappingDiv => { var sp = new URLSearchParams(window.location.search); setHiddenFieldValue(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-source', 'utm_source', 'funnel_source', 'thehustleco'); setHiddenFieldValue(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-campaign', 'utm_campaign', 'funnel_campaign', 'home-page'); setHiddenFieldValue(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-medium', 'utm_medium', 'funnel_medium', 'home-exit-popup'); setHiddenFieldValue(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-referral', 'ref', 'funnel_referral', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-a', 'a', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-c', 'c', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-o', 'o', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-oc', 'oc', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-e', 'e', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-f', 'f', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-r', 'r', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-t', 't', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-s1', 's1', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-s2', 's2', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-s3', 's3', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-s4', 's4', ''); setHiddenFieldValueFromUtm(wrappingDiv, sp, 'funnel-s5', 's5', ''); var error_message = getCookieValue('validate-email-message'); if (error_message && error_message.trim() != '') { var error = wrappingDiv.getElementsByClassName('funnel-error')[0]; var prev_email = getCookieValue('funnel_email'); error_message = prev_email + " is not valid. Please try again"; error.innerHTML = error_message; error.style = ''; } }); if (false) { initCaptchaFormV2(); } } function initCaptchaFormV2() { var v3RecaptchaResponseEl = document.getElementById('recaptcha-response-v3'); v3RecaptchaResponseEl.parentNode.removeChild(v3RecaptchaResponseEl); var wrappingDiv = document.getElementById('email-submission'); var subForm = wrappingDiv.getElementsByClassName('email-submission')[0]; var captchaVersion = document.createElement('input'); captchaVersion.class = 'g-recaptcha hidden-input'; captchaVersion.type = 'hidden'; captchaVersion.name = 'g-recaptcha-response-v2'; captchaVersion.value = 'true'; subForm.appendChild(captchaVersion); var captchaEl = document.createElement('div'); captchaEl.id = 'verify-your-humanity'; subForm.prepend(captchaEl); var captchaApiScriptEl = document.createElement('script'); captchaApiScriptEl.src = 'https://www.recaptcha.net/recaptcha/api.js?onload=onloadCallback&render=explicit'; captchaApiScriptEl.async = true; captchaApiScriptEl.defer = true; document.head.appendChild(captchaApiScriptEl); } window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded', (event) => { initForm(); }); if(typeof hp_interval == 'undefined') { var hp_interval = 0; var hp_ts = 0; var hp_try = 0; jQuery(document).ready(function ($) { hp_interval = setInterval(function(){ $('input.hp_ts').val(hp_ts); hp_ts += 1; if(hp_ts >= 180) { clearInterval(hp_interval); } },1000); $('.email-submission:not(.prevent-default)').submit(function (e) { var form = $(this); if(hp_ts < 3 && hp_try < 1) { e.preventDefault(); if (form.find('.email-form-submit-message').length < 1) { form.find('.email-form-wrap').after('<p class="email-form-submit-message" style="padding: 0em 1.5em;">Too fast! Are you a human? Try again please.</p>'); } hp_try += 1; hp_ts = 0; $('input.hp_try').val(hp_try); } }); }); } </script> <div class="email-signup" id=email-submission> <div class="funnel-error" style="display:none;"></div> <form class="email-submission " id="exit-popup-general" action="https://cms.thehustle.co/api/v1/contacts/wordpress_create" method="post" autocomplete="email"> <div class="email-form-wrap"> <input class="funnel-source hidden-input" type="hidden" name="source" value="daily"> <input class="funnel-campaign hidden-input" type="hidden" name="campaign" value="2/6 - Samsung"> <input class="funnel-medium hidden-input" type="hidden" name="medium" value="email"> <input class="funnel-form-id hidden-input" type="hidden" name="form-id" value="exit-popup-general"> <input class="funnel-referral hidden-input" type="hidden" name="referral_code"> <input class="funnel-fail-url hidden-input" type="hidden" name="fail_url" value=""> <input class="funnel-ip-country-wordpress hidden-input" type="hidden" name="ip_country_wordpress" value="US"> <input class="funnel-submission-url hidden-input" type="hidden" name="submission_url" value="https://thehustle.co/samsung-leader-out-of-prison/?utm_campaign=2%2F6+-+Samsung&utm_content=samsung-leader-out-of-prison&utm_medium=email&utm_source=daily"> <input class="funnel-a hidden-input" type="hidden" name="a" value=""> <input class="funnel-c hidden-input" type="hidden" name="c" value=""> <input class="funnel-o hidden-input" type="hidden" name="o" value=""> <input class="funnel-oc hidden-input" type="hidden" name="oc" value=""> <input class="funnel-e hidden-input" type="hidden" name="e" value=""> <input class="funnel-f hidden-input" type="hidden" name="f" value=""> <input class="funnel-r hidden-input" type="hidden" name="r" value=""> <input class="funnel-t hidden-input" type="hidden" name="t" value=""> <input class="funnel-s1 hidden-input" type="hidden" name="s1" value=""> <input class="funnel-s2 hidden-input" type="hidden" name="s2" value=""> <input class="funnel-s3 hidden-input" type="hidden" name="s3" value=""> <input class="funnel-s4 hidden-input" type="hidden" name="s4" value=""> <input class="funnel-s5 hidden-input" type="hidden" name="s5" value=""> <input class="funnel-success-url hidden-input" type="hidden" name="success_url" value="https://thehustle.co/new-thank-you-v2/"> <input id="recaptcha-response-v3" class="g-recaptcha hidden-input" type="hidden" name="g-recaptcha-response" value=""> <div class="signup-icon" style="display:none;"> <svg width="24" viewBox="0 0 24 24" fill="none" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"><path d="M22 6c0-1.1-.9-2-2-2H4c-1.1 0-2 .9-2 2v12c0 1.1.9 2 2 2h16c1.1 0 2-.9 2-2V6Zm-2 0-8 5-8-5h16Zm0 12H4V8l8 5 8-5v10Z" fill="#848B92"></path></svg> </div> <input type="hidden" name="hp_ts" class="hp_ts" value="0"> <input type="hidden" name="hp_try" class="hp_try" value="0"> <input type="text" name="first_name" placeholder="Enter your name" value=""> <input class="signup-email" type="email" name="email" placeholder="Your email address" required autocomplete="email"> <input class="email-submit om-trigger-conversion" type="submit" value="Join Free"> </div> <div class="validate-mistake-emails-message" style="display:none;"></div> <div class="form-options" style="display:none"> <div class="form-options-wrap"> <div class="trends-opt-in"> <input id="trends_opt_in_email_submission" class="trends-opt-in-checkbox" type="checkbox" name="trends_opt_in"> <label for="trends_opt_in_email_submission" id="trends_opt_in_label" class="trends-opt-in-text">Yes, I’d like to receive additional marketing emails on hot business opportunities from Trends, by the Hustle.</label> </div> <div class="privacy-text"> <p>We're committed to your privacy. The Hustle uses the information you provide to contact you about our relevant content and services. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For more information, check out our <a href="https://thehustle.co/privacy">Privacy Policy</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div submit-success> <template type="amp-mustache"> <p class="c-message c-message--success">Thank you for subscribing.</p> </template> </div> <div submit-error> <template type="amp-mustache"> <p class="c-message c-message--failed">Your submission failed. Please try again!</p> </template> </div> </form> </div>