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Chaebol and prison: a quick look at chiefs who served jail terms

By Yim Hyun-su

Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, at the Seoul High Court  on Monday before attending a sentencing hearing (Yonhap)
Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, at the Seoul High Court  on Monday before attending a sentencing hearing (Yonhap)
Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for bribing former President Park Geun-hye on Monday, joining a long list of conglomerate owners who have been charged with a similar offense in the past.

While Lee is the first Samsung chief to be imprisoned and has been sentenced twice -- in a retrial Monday as well as in February 2017 -- Lee Byung-chul, the late founder of Samsung Group, was similarly investigated though without being indicted.

Lee Jae-yong’s late father, Lee Kun-hee, who served as chairman of Samsung Group from 1987 to 2008 and 2010 to 2020, was also sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for five years, and a fine of 110 billion won ($99.3 million) after being convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion. He stepped down in the wake of the charges after leading the company for 20 years and was later pardoned by President Lee Myung-bak.

Other major conglomerates have had similar histories.

Hyundai Motor Group’s honorary Chairman Chung Mong-koo was arrested and charged with embezzlement and bribery in 2006.

The head of Korea’s second-largest conglomerate was sentenced to three years in prison at the first trial in 2007. But in the following year after an appeal, his final sentence was three years in prison suspended for five years.

It was not Chung’s first time to be arrested. In 1978, he and his father were investigated over charges of bribery when he was serving a senior role at what is now HDC Hyundai Development Company. He was detained for 75 days and was found guilty of violating the Building Act.

In 2014, The Supreme Court confirmed a four-year jail sentence for SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won for embezzling company funds.

Chey Tae-won was found guilty of embezzling 46.5 billion won from two SK Group affiliates, including mobile carrier SK Telecom, to make personal investments in stock options and futures.

His younger brother Chey Jae-won who is the group‘s vice chairman was also charged with conspiring with his elder brother in their embezzlement scheme.

In 2017, Shin Kyuk-ho, founder of Lotte Group -- a multinational conglomerate known for manufacturing, beverages and hotel businesses in Korea -- was found guilty of embezzlement and was sentenced to four years in prison at the age of 95. However, He was allowed to remain free pending an appeal by the court for health reasons.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)
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