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Spotlight: Samsung heir's release by appeals court triggers controversy in S. Korea
From:Xinhua  |  2018-02-05 18:45

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Lee Jae-yong (Xinhua file photo)

by Yoo Seungki

SEOUL, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- Controversy was triggered in South Korea over Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong's release from prison by an appeals court, which dropped most of bribery charges found guilty by a lower court.

A judge at the Seoul High Court sentenced Lee, an heir apparent of Samsung Group, the country's biggest family-controlled conglomerate, to two and a half years in prison with a stay of execution for four years.

It was reduced from the five-year imprisonment levied by the lower district court in August last year. Independent Counsel Park Young-soo, who investigated a corruption scandal involving impeached President Park Geun-hye and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, sought 12 years in jail for the Samsung heir.

Two other senior Samsung executives were set free from prison as the appeals court handed down suspended jail sentences.

The special prosecutor accused Lee of offering, or promising to offer, a total of 43.3 billion won (39.7 million U.S. dollars) of bribes in various ways, including the donation to Choi-controlled nonprofit organizations, but the appeals court acknowledged only part of the amount, or 3.6 billion won (3.3 million U.S. dollars), as bribes.

Other charges against Lee, including the flight of assets abroad, were dropped by the appeals court that denied a charge against Lee who provided bribes in return for favors to inherit the management control from his ailing father, Chairman Lee Kun-hee who has been hospitalized for almost four years.

The appeals court said former President Park, who had the strongest political power at the time, intimidated Samsung executives, denying the lower court's verdict that the case was a typical collusion between politicians and businessmen.

The high court's ruling was forecast to damage public trust in the judicial body further as the trust was already hurt by internal findings that judges were illegally inspected under the presidency of the ousted leader.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court was newly appointed by President Moon Jae-in, who took office in May last year, but many of high posts in the judicial body were named under the previous government.

Moon's ruling Democratic Party expressed its strong regret over the appeals court's ruling, saying South Koreans will be reminded of a saying that a rich person is innocent while a poor person is guilty.

The minor progressive Justice Party said the high court adhered to the saying that a rich person is innocent, noting that the ruling will be acceptable to nobody in South Korea.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party, which former President Park was affiliated with before her impeachment, and the big business circle welcomed Lee's release from prison.

Liberal civic group activists denounced the ruling as being lenient to the family members of conglomerates, while conservative activists saw it as a reasonable verdict.

Right after getting the suspended jail sentence, Lee smilingly got on a bus bound for the detention center, where he stayed for almost a year. The Samsung heir was taken into custody on Feb. 17, 2017.

Leaving the detention center at about 4:40 p.m. local time (0740 GMT), Lee told reporters that he was sorry for the matter, saying the past year was a previous time during which he was reflecting on himself.