|Korea Chamber of Commerce and IndustryChairman Park Yong-maan enters a funeral hall for the late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-heein southern Seoul, on Oct. 26, 2020. / Joint Press Corps.|
Vice Chairman Lee faced a rehearing of evidence in the case involving former President Park Geun-hye and her top confidant Choi Soon-sil, both of whom are now in jail following guilty verdicts. Lee is said to have paid bribes to Park and Choi for their assistance in a smoother power transfer from his father Lee Kun-hee, who passed away last year.
Prosecutors have sought a nine-year prison term for Lee.
Lee's lawyers argued he was a victim of presidential power abuse and that Lee did not make any illegitimate requests. They said money provided by Lee went into equestrian training for Choi's daughter and a sports foundation set up by Choi.
In February 2018, Lee had an original sentence received from a lower court ― which found him guilty of paying 8.9 billion won in bribes ― changed by the Seoul High Court into a suspended prison term of two and a half years. However, last year the Supreme Court disagreed with the finding and sent it back to the Seoul High Court stating an additional 5 billion won paid out to Choi that the lower court had ruled were not bribes should be recognized as such.
Given the top court's decision, it may appear difficult for Lee to escape a prison term ― seen all the more likely given both Park and Choi were convicted of receiving bribes from Samsung.
Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman Park Yong-maan submitted a petition last week calling for the court to grant leniency for Lee. This was the first time in the more than seven years Park has served as chief of the lobby group for him to submit a petition for a businessman on trial, and apparently referred to the role of Samsung in the local economy.
Earlier this month, the head of the Korea Venture Business Association also submitted a petition containing a similar request.
Petitions filed on Cheong Wa Dae's website calling for leniency for Lee had garnered over 60,000 supporters as of Sunday.
One factor in Lee's favor is his setting up of a compliance committee at Samsung last year to ensure the company complies with all laws. The committee was drawn up following a court order for Lee to come up with measures to prevent any more ethical lapses at the conglomerate.