South Korean president pardons Samsung chief Jay Y. Lee
South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol pardoned Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee on Friday, with South Korea’s Justice Ministry saying the business leader was needed to help overcome a “national economic crisis”.
The pardon is largely symbolic, with Lee already out on parole after serving 18 months in jail for bribery relating to his time leading the world’s biggest smartphone and memory-chip maker.
However, it should mean Lee will be able to carry out business activities more freely and could herald some big moves from Samsung, analysts said.
“With urgent needs to overcome the national economic crisis, we carefully selected economic leaders who lead the national growth engine through active technology investment and job creation to be pardoned,” Justice Minister Han Dong Hoon told a briefing.
Also pardoned by pro-business President Yoon was Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin, who was sentenced to a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence on charges of bribery.
“We sincerely thank the government’s and people’s decision to grant pardon, and Chairman Shin Dong-bin and staff members at Lotte will contribute to overcoming the complex global crisis,” Lotte said in a statement.
Samsung did not immediately comment.
Even before receiving the presidential pardon, Lee had returned to the limelight, appearing in May with President Yoon and U.S. President Joe Biden when they visited Samsung’s Pyeongtaek chip production facilities.
He has also visited Europe in June to meet ASML Holding NV CEO Peter Wennink, discussing the adoption of key high-end chip equipment. read more
Analysts have long expected decisions on major M&A projects and investments once Lee was reinstated, with company sources saying such decisions should only be made by Lee.
“This removes the employment restriction Lee was technically under,” said Park Ju-gun, head of research firm Leaders Index.
Samsung Electronics has not conducted a high-profile deal since its completed its purchase of audio electronics maker Harman for $8 billion in 2017.
Although macroeconomic factors such as a demand downturn may weigh on investment decisions, Samsung has a huge war chest.
Samsung Electronics’ cash balance increased slightly to 125 trillion won ($95.13 billion) as of end-June, from 111 trillion a year earlier.