Samsung leader Jay Y Lee receives presidential pardon

Following its leader's pardon, Samsung could be set to announce acquisitions of other major tech companies.
Written by Cho Mu-Hyun, Contributing Writer

Samsung leader Lee Jae-yong, second from right, toured the company's Pyeongtaek chip plant on the first working day of 2021. Image: Samsung

Samsung vice chairman Lee Jae-yong, who also goes by Jay Y Lee, received a presidential pardon on Friday. Lee, the de facto leader of Samsung, was among a list of 1,693 people announced to be pardoned by the country's justice ministry, which said Lee was included to help overcome the "national economic crisis".

South Korea gives out special pardons annually by presidential decree ahead of its Independence Day holiday on August 15, which celebrates the end of Japanese colonial rule of Korea over 70 years ago. Lee didn't receive the full pardon however but the lesser rehabilitation where his criminal record remains but the rights restricted from his conviction are lifted.

The vice chairman had been found guilty of bribery and embezzlement in January last year but was released from jail on parole in August of the same year. The guilty verdict restricted him from certain employments for five years, meaning he couldn't hold a key position such as inside director of Samsung, which he now can.

Despite the latest pardon, legal risks remain for Lee as he is still on trial for a separate case for alleged stock price manipulation involving two Samsung affiliates.

Following the pardon, the vice chairman thanked the government and the people for giving him a new opportunity and said he will work hard to contribute to the economy and create new jobs.

The vice chairman has been more visible in his business activities since earlier this year. Lee gave a personal tour of Samsung facilities in South Korea and showcased the company's semiconductor technology to US President Joe Biden during his visit to the country in May.

In the same month, Samsung also announced a $355 billion, five-year spending plan for what it calls strategic businesses which included semiconductors. He also visited Europe to meet ASML CEO Peter Wennink. Netherlands' ASML is a key supplier of equipment to Samsung needed to make advanced semiconductors.

Analysts expect Lee's pardon could be followed up by a major acquisition announcement by Samsung or his promotion to chairman, the top position of the entire business conglomerate that has been vacant since his father Lee Kun-hee passed away in 2020. Samsung had consistently said since last year that it was actively pursuing acquisitions of other companies.

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