South Korea’s business and political communities were divided over a local court’s ruling to put Lee Jae-yong, the heir-apparent of Samsung Group, behind bars.
Some of the business and political honchos expressed concern over its potential fallout for the national economy.
Multiple business insiders expressed shock over the Seoul Central District Court’s decision to slap Lee with a five-year jail term for bribery, embezzlement and other charges in a massive corruption scandal that led to the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye.
“The court should have considered that (Samsung) did not have criminal intention, but wanted to avoid trouble if it refused the government’s request,” Yonhap News Agency quoted an official from a local business group as saying on Friday.
Another official from a South Korean conglomerate said it was disappointing that the ruling came at challenging times when the country is facing diplomatic tension with China coupled with Washington’s move towards protectionism.
“Samsung Electronics takes up 11.9 per cent of South Korea’s manufacturing segment, and 30.7 per cent of the combined operating profits,” the official pointed out, adding that the prolonged absence of Lee was expected to lead to side-effects.
South Korea’s ruling party, on the other hand, cheered the decision.
“The ruling targets the back-scratching alliance of government and businesses,” said Choo Mi-ae, the head of the Democratic Party.
“A company must be transparent to receive trust from the global community and beef up competitiveness.”
The party chief expressed the hope that the case may act as an opportunity for Samsung to become a socially responsible company.
The minor opposition People’s Party also said the business community should become more aware that South Korea is no longer tolerant of conglomerates’ wrongdoings as seen by the case.
Labour activists also welcomed the court’s acknowledgment of Lee’s corruption.
“Lee has personally used state authority to facilitate its power succession, resulting in massive losses to the state pension,” unionised workers of Samsung Electronics Service said.
Prosecutors earlier sought 12 years against Lee, claiming Samsung’s de facto leader offered or pledged $38 million to win the state pension’s approval for a merger between two affiliates under terms designed to increase his control over the entire business empire.
The court ruled that Lee provided over $6 million in bribes.
The union also claimed that Lee should have received a jail term beyond 10 years if the court had considered him an ordinary criminal, rather than the head of a conglomerate.
“Lee provided Park and her confidante Choi Soon-sil with bribes, which was the money that could have been spent on victims suffering from work-related diseases at Samsung,” said Hwang Sang-gi an activist from the Protector of Health and Human Rights of Semiconductor Workers (SHARP).
“It is unacceptable that he received only five years,” Sang-gi added.