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Samsung heir to be sentenced after 4 years of graft trial

SAMSUNG Electronics Co Ltd heir Jay Y. Lee will be sentenced by a South Korean court on a bribery charge on Monday.

Lee, 52, was convicted of bribing an associate of former President Park Geun-hye and jailed for five years in 2017. He denied wrongdoing, the sentence was reduced and suspended on appeal, and he was released after serving a year.

The Supreme Court then sent the case back to the Seoul High Court, which will rule on it, and the sentencing, on Monday. Prosecutors have called for a nine-year jail term.

Legal experts say the court is highly unlikely to acquit Lee but it could suspend his sentence, allowing him to remain free. Lee is involved in a separate trial for accounting fraud and stock manipulation.

For many South Koreans, it is not just Lee who will be in the dock on Monday but the whole chaebol system of family-run conglomerates, long credited with building Asia’s fourth-largest economy but criticised for wielding too much power and lapses in governance and compliance.

President Moon Jae-in was elected in 2017 on a reformist platform vowing to clean up chaebol practices but he has since encouraged the big businesses to create jobs, especially as the novel coronavirus undermined growth.

Public sentiment seems to have swung back in favour of the chaebol and many South Koreans would like to see a decisive Lee at the helm of the Samsung empire as it navigates intensifying global competition and pressure to innovate.

Lee has pledged to change Samsung and make compliance and social responsibility top priorities, in part by ensuring that an independent compliance panel set up last year continues to operate.

The judges who will rule on Monday have said they will take the issue of compliance into account in making their decision.

This is the first trial that proposed compliance as a mitigating factor in sentencing and it could lead to it being utilized in South Korea’s charisma-led chaebol culture as a way to build consensus with external stakeholders.