South Korea just pardoned Samsung's chief for bribing a former president because the country needs him to overcome a 'national economic crisis'

South Korea just pardoned Samsung's chief for bribing a former president because the country needs him to overcome a 'national economic crisis'
South Korea pardoned Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee so he can help the country overcome its economic crisis.Kim Min-Hee/Getty Images
  • South Korea just pardoned Samsung's de facto leader, Jay Y. Lee, for bribing a former president.
  • The justice ministry said Lee needs to help the country overcome a "national economic crisis."

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol pardoned Samsung's de facto chief for bribing a former president because he's just too important for the country's economy.

In a Friday announcement, South Korea's Justice Ministry said Samsung Electronics vice chairman Jay Y. Lee was needed to help with the country's "economic crisis."

"Key business people were included in the pardons in consideration of their roles in leading national growth through technology investment and job creation, given that the country badly needs to overcome an economic crisis," a government official told the Yonhap news agency.

In 2017, Lee was convicted of bribing a friend of then South Korean President Park Geun-hye and eventually sentenced to two and a half years in prison. He was seeking government support for a merger that would boost his control of the company founded by his grandfather. Park, South Korea's first female leader, was impeached in December 2016 and sentenced to 24 years in prison. She was pardoned last year.

In addition to Lee, Yoon granted pardons to 1,692 other individuals, including Shin Dong-bin, the chairman of the Lotte Group, who was separately also sentenced to jail for bribery. The pardons are set to take effect next Monday.


Lee was already out on parole after serving 18 months in prison for the charges — he even met US President Joe Biden in May during the leader's visit to South Korea — so the pardon is mostly symbolic. However, conditions of Lee's parole did not allow him to take up new employment for five years and required him to get official approval for travel overseas, according to South Korea's Maeil Business News. The pardon means Lee may finally be able to become Samsung Electronics' chairman — a position that has remained vacant since his father died in October 2020.

"I will do my best for the national economy," Lee told reporters on Friday, per Maeil Business News.

Lee's legal troubles are not over. He still faces charges of fraud and stock manipulation, per Reuters.

Like many countries around the world, export-reliant South Korea is facing economic headwinds from the Ukraine war, soaring inflation, and slowing demand.