SEOUL, South Korea (AFP) — The jailed de facto leader of the giant Samsung group walked free on parole Friday, the latest instance of South Korea’s long tradition of freeing business leaders imprisoned for corruption or tax evasion on economic grounds.
Lee Jae-yong — the 202nd richest person in the world according to Forbes, with a net worth of $11.4 billion — was serving a two-and-a-half year prison sentence imposed in January for bribery, embezzlement and other offences in connection with the corruption scandal that brought down ex-South Korean president Park Geun-hye.
But calls for his early release from both politicians and business leaders grew in recent months over what they claimed was a possible leadership vacuum at the South’s biggest conglomerate.
The justice ministry announced Monday he had been paroled — among around 800 early releases — citing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the economy.
Lee, 53, bowed to reporters waiting outside a detention center south of Seoul and told them: “I have caused too much concern to the people. I’m really sorry.”