Samsung boss dodges corruption bullet for now

The corruption scandal that led to the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye also threatened the Vice-Chairman of Samsung Electronics Lee Jae-yong.

Korean news agency Yonhap reports, however, that despite Lee being held in a detention center in lieu of the decision, a Seoul court decided there was no need to arrest him for now. The only official statement from Samsung has been a deadpan appreciation that the case can be investigated without the immediate need for detention. But an unnamed Samsung official told Yonhap “It’s a relief that (Vice Chairman Lee) has avoided detention, but he has not proven his innocence.”

In another Yonhap report both the Korean opposition leader and the mayor of Seoul expressed displeasure with the court decision. “It was unexpected and very regrettable,” Moon Jae-in, leader of the Minjoo party, was quoted as saying. “Consideration of its impact on the national economy may be important, but what matters more is establishing justice,” Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon apparently posted on Facebook. “(The independent counsel) should show its resolve to root out corruption and reform chaebol by reapplying for the warrant.”

Chaebol is the South Korean term for business conglomerates, the largest of which is Samsung. Mayor Park seems to be inferring the court took the decision it did to avoid potential economic problems resulting from Samsung’s leader being unable to lead, but it’s hard to imagine his mind is entirely still on the job even outside of prison, especially since he’s still under investigation.

The corruption scandal centers around an unofficial aide to President Park – Choi Soon-sil – who is alleged to have used her to extort millions from the Chaebols in exchange for influence. A couple of official Presidential aides were implicated, which inevitably led to the President herself, in a sequence of events reminiscent of the Watergate Scandal.

Samsung’s Lee is far from being off the hook, however, as the investigation into the chaebol’s potential involvement into the scandal is ongoing and who knows what might come out once the accused start looking for plea bargains. While a company as large as Samsung must surely not be too dependent on one person, it’s leadership is dynastic and Lee is the only son of Chairman Lee Kun-hee, so if he is eventually convicted it’s likely to shake the giant Korean company up a fair bit.

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