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Samsung's Lee Jae-Yong Walks Free After Court Reduces Bribery Sentence

Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, gets into a car leaving a detention center in Uiwang, South Korea, on Monday.
Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, gets into a car leaving a detention center in Uiwang, South Korea, on Monday.

Lee Jae-yong, the de facto leader of the Samsung conglomerate best known for its electronics, walked free from a South Korean jail on Monday after a court reduced and suspended his five-year sentence on corruption charges handed down less than six months ago.

The appeals court reduced Lee's sentence to a suspended 2 1/2 years, dismissing most of the bribery and corruption charges. It suspended the sentence for four years, meaning Lee, who is also known as Jay Y. Lee, is unlikely to serve any more time.

The scandal brought down the government of President Park Geun-hye last year.

As NPR's Elise Hu reported at the time of his original conviction in August, Lee was found guilty "on charges that Samsung paid millions in bribes to slush funds intended for Park, all in exchange for government approval for a controversial merger. It helped cement family rule of [the] company: Lee is the son of Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee, and grandson of the founder, Lee Byung-chul."

South Korea's Yonhap news agency says the appeals court "acknowledged as bribes only some 3.6 billion won ($3.2 million) which Samsung sent to Choi's German-based firm to sponsor the equestrian training of her daughter, Chung Yoo-ra."

Lee was also "cleared of hiding assets overseas, a charge that could carry the heaviest punishment — a minimum five-year sentence — among the five charges," Yonhap says.

Reuters writes that the decision to reduce Lee's sentence sent shock waves through government and business circles in South Korea.

The news agency writes: "Coming just days before South Koreans gather to host the Winter Olympics, the ruling reignited an intense public debate over widespread corruption in a case that ousted [Park] ... and has ensnared leading members of the family-run 'chaebol' conglomerates."

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