February 5, 2018 // 10:11 a.m.
Samsung vice chair Lee Jae-yong has been freed from prison, just six months into his five-year prison sentence for bribery, embezzlement, perjury, concealment of criminal proceeds, and illicit transfer of assets abroad.
Lee Jae-yong, also known under the Anglicisation Jay Y. Lee, was arrested back in February 2017 on charges of bribery and wrongdoing related to former South Korean President Park Geun-hye. The accusations claimed that Lee had offered around £29 million in bribes to then-President Park's friend and confidant Choi Soon-sil in order to receive the government's backing for a merger between two Samsung subsidiaries which allowed Samsung chair Lee Kun-hee to turn the company over to his son Jae-yong and continue an unbroken line of succession dating about to the founder Lee Byung-chul in 1969.
While Lee denied the accusations, in August he was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison in a dramatic departure from the unwritten '3-5 law' in which the leaders of South Korean family-run conglomerates like Samsung, known as chaebol, are sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison and a five year probationary period regardless of the extent of their wrongdoing.
Those who had hoped the relatively harsh sentence spelled the end of chaebol leaders committing crimes knowing the worst they could expect is a relative slap on the wrist, though, will be disappointed to hear that Lee is now a free man. The New York Times reports that Lee has been freed after just six months, following an appeal which saw the court reduce the five-year sentence to two and a half years then suspend it altogether.
Samsung has not commented on Lee's release, nor on whether he will return to his role at the company.