Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman, Jay Y. Lee, has asked presiding Judge Kim Jin-dong to sentence Lee to twelve years in prison for his role in the corruption scandal. On the final day of the four month trail, prosecutors labelled Lee the “ultimate beneficiary” of the crimes committed in the scandal that shook the country and led to mass protests bringing down former President Park Geun-hye. Lee has been in custody since February. The impeached president is fighting 18 charges herself, and if convicted could face life imprisonment.
Lee’s detention has had little effect on the performance of Samsung Electronics.
The South Korean public has shown a great interest in Lee’s hearing, who has been deemed to be one of the world’s most influential businessmen. Lee’s trail began on April 7th, and since then has seen 53 hearings and 59 witnesses.
Lee and four other executives are said to have payed bribes to Gun-hye and to Choi Soon-sil, a close friend to former president, in order to gain presidential favors. Choi was given a three-year prison sentence in June. Lee has also been accused of hiding assets overseas, embezzlement, perjury, and the concealment of criminal proceeds.
The prosecution are also seeking 10 year prison sentences for former executives Choi Gee-sung, Jang Choong-ki and Park Sang-jin for having said assisting Lee. Another executive, Hwang Sung-soo, faces seven years.
“The defendants were closely tied to power and sought personal gains,” the prosecutors said. “We have an opportunity to establish the rule of law. The defendants have colluded with power to seek personal interests, turning their backs on peoples’ wish to shed light on the truth behind the scandal.”
When he took the stand for the first time in his defense last week, Lee has consistently denied any wrongdoing; claiming that he had no role in decision making at the Samsung Group and “mostly listened to other executives”. Lee’s lawyers had argued that his alleged overreaching intention of taking and maintaining ownership control of Samsung was a “a fictional construct” made up by prosecutors. Samsung is the world’s largest smartphone maker and has a sprawling business empire. The also argued that Lee had given Choi and Gun-hye the money because of Choi’s threats and coercion, not to receive business favors.
Special counsel Park Young-soo made the sentence request on Monday, stating that the prosecution had provided ample evidence showing the vice chairman gave Gun-hye and Choi 43.3 billion won ($38.5 million) in order to ensure his control of Samsung Electronics; also claiming the defendants were not victims, but active in seeking advantages through the corrupt deals. Lee, 49, has essentially been in control of the vast Samsung Group since his father suffered a heart attack in 2014.
“This is a typical example of the collusion between politics and business, which has inflicted serious damage to our constitutional values. The defendants keep lying and making lame excuses, but the evidence suggests otherwise,” the special prosecutor said.
The prosecution has insisted the former president pressured the National Pension Service, who is a key shareholder of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries, to vote for their merger in 2015. The vote was critical for Lee to tighten his power of the Samsung group management.
“I wanted to become a businessman many people would admire. I have a lot of mixed feelings to be here before achieving that goal. I am sorry for disappointing everyone who supports Samsung,” Lee said on the stand during his testimony.
The court ruling is expected on August 25th, and will be broadcasted live for people to watch on television; thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision to allow a live broadcast of important cases that the people have a right to know.
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