Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee, convicted of bribery and embezzlement, walked out of prison on parole on Friday, with South Korea’s president calling on the public for understanding over his controversial release.
Broad support for his parole grew amid anxiety that major strategic decisions are not being made at the world’s biggest memory chip and smartphone manufacturer without him. President Moon Jae-in’s office said the decision to release Lee was in the national interest.
But civic groups have slammed his parole as another sign of leniency for the country’s business elite and one that undermines its justice system.
Lee, 53, appeared outside the Seoul Detention Center, wearing a dark grey suit and looking much thinner than when he was last detained in January. Convicted of bribing a friend of former President Park Geun-hye, he served 18 months of a revised 30-month sentence.
“I’ve caused much concern for the people. I deeply apologise,” Lee told reporters. “I am listening to the concerns, criticisms, worries and high expectations for me. I will work hard.”
He went straight to Samsung headquarters after his release.
South Koreans have long had an uneasy relationship with the founding families of the country’s chaebols, veering between anger over their many privileges and scandals, and recognition that the conglomerates are also responsible for much of the country’s economic success.
“We are well aware that there are supporting and opposing views on Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee’s parole. The views of the people who are opposed are also right,” Moon’s office said in a statement.
“On the other hand, there have been many people who called for his parole in this severe crisis, hoping that he will help the country with respect to semiconductors and vaccines.”