Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, who was imprisoned this January, will be released on parole Friday. Photo courtesy of Samsung Electronics

After spending seven months behind bars, Vice Chairman Lee will be back

South Korea’s Ministry of Justice said on Aug. 9 that it will grant parole to imprisoned Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, who will be released later this week.

Justice Minister Park Beom-kye said in a media briefing that Lee was included in the parole list in time with the Aug. 15 Liberation Day. The Korean government has given paroles or presidential pardons ahead of the national holiday.

“We made the decision in consideration of the national economic situation caused by the prolonged virus pandemic,” the minister said.

Inmates who complete 60 percent of their total jail terms are eligible for the parole review under the ministry’s regulations.

Lee was put in prison this January after he was sentenced to a 30-month jail term for having bribed former President Park Geun-hye, who is also behind bars, to strengthen his grip on Samsung.

As Lee already served about a year in 2017, he completed more than 60 percent of his prison term. Otherwise, he was scheduled for release in July 2022.

Thus far, the country has been split into two opposing camps about releasing the Samsung tycoon early on.

A majority of people have agreed to the idea of allowing parole, as shown by last month’s survey where more than 70 percent of respondents said in favor of Lee’s parole.

By contrast, a group comprised of 1,056 activist and labor organizations issued a joint statement early this month opposing parole or pardon for the 53-year-old businessman.

On hearing the news of Lee’s parole, business organizations welcomed the decision, while civic groups criticized the government. Some even requested resignation of Justice Minister Park and the apology of President Moon Jae-in.

And there are controversies about whether Lee will be able to work for Samsung because people are not allowed to work at any outfit related to his crimes for five years after being released.

In order to return to the Samsung management, Lee is required to get the permission of Justice Minister Park.

Park said he has yet to consider the issue as the ministry had just made the decision on Lee’s parole.

“In the legal perspective, there can be disputes. But when it comes to the economy, I think the Justice Ministry’s decision will be of help,” Prof. Han Tae-hee at Sungkyunkwan University said.

“Samsung Electronics is a company with global competitiveness in semiconductors, display, smartphone, TV, and telecom networks. But it has faced challenges in smartphones and semiconductors. The firm now desperately needs the leadership of the CEO,” he said.