Samsung heir faces nine years in prison in bribery case

South Korean prosecutors requested this penalty for the heir of Samsung Electronics, Jay Y. Lee, in a case that shook the country.

South Korean prosecutors have sought a nine-year prison sentence for Samsung Electronics heir Jay Y. Lee in a bribery case that shook the nation and sparked a backlash against the country’s most powerful conglomerates.

Special prosecutors proposed the sentence on Wednesday during a hearing at the Seoul High Court, which will render its ruling on the billionaire’s fate on January 18. “It cannot be denied that it has had a great positive impact on our society,” according to a transcript of the prosecutors’ closing arguments, referring to Samsung. “But just because there has been an economic contribution, there should be no doubts in the application of the law based on the rule of law.”

The 52-year-old billionaire is fighting corruption allegations in a retrial in a case that began four years ago, which landed him in jail and caused the departure of former President Park Geun-Hye. The outcome of the case could complicate the succession of Samsung, at a time when Lee is expected to take command of the electronics giant after the death of his father in October.

The executive is accused of handing out gifts to consolidate his control over the world’s largest smartphone maker and smooth its rise. Lee served a year in jail before being released in 2018 after an appeals court cut an initial five-year prison sentence in half. But in August, the Supreme Court overturned that decision and the executive returned to justice. This time, Lee faces a harsher sentence of a minimum of five years, as the number of alleged bribes recognized by the superior court increased.

However, experts believe that the chances of Lee going to prison are decreasing as the trial draws to a close. The high court judges asked Samsung and Lee to implement measures to prevent illegal activity and enhance credibility among the group. Lee responded by establishing an independent compliance committee and issuing a personal apology in May for past failures related to the probate process. He also publicly vowed not to hand over the leadership of Korea’s largest conglomerate to his sons. The activities of the compliance committee will be considered in Lee’s eventual sentencing.

“Although it is tough and difficult, I will go the right way,” the billionaire said in prepared statements filed in court on Wednesday. “I promise that I will create a company with the highest level of transparency and morality.”