SEOUL, South Korea-The Supreme Court of South Korea on Thursday upheld the 17-year sentence of former President Lee Myung-bak (Lee Myung-bak) and ordered his return to prison.
Mr. Lee served as president from 2008 to 2013 and is expected to go to jail in a few days, making him the second South Korean former president to be imprisoned on corruption charges. Mr. Lee’s successor, Park Geun-hye, was impeached and expelled on suspicion of bribery and abuse of power. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison by the Court of Appeal in 2018.
In the same year, Li was arrested for bribery and embezzlement of public funds. He was successfully convicted in a lower court, but in recent months has been waiting for the Supreme Court to be released on bail when it has the final decision on his case, and he has appealed.
The court also ruled that former Hyundai CEO Lee had disguised his ownership of a lucrative auto parts manufacturer in the name of a relative and misappropriated the company’s 24 billion won between 1995 and 2007.
The Court of Appeals increased his sentence by two years in February, saying that he had taken even more bribes: 9.4 billion won. On Thursday, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence and 17 years in prison.
According to prosecutors, Mr. Li, 78, received bribes from Samsung in the form of attorney fees, and Samsung paid attorney fees to resolve the lawsuit involving auto parts company Das. The prosecutor said that in return for the bribery, Mr. Lee showed kindness to Samsung executives, including granting presidential pardon to company chairman Lee Kun-hee, who was convicted of corruption and tax evasion in 2009.
Lee Kun-hee’s presidential pardon was criticized at the time. This is an example of how collusion between politics and business often allows high-level businessmen convicted of serious white-collar crimes in South Korea to be sentenced with impunity. After corruption allegations surfaced, the tycoon was forced to resign as Samsung’s chairman in 2008, but he returned to Samsung’s leadership in 2010, only a few months after receiving the president’s pardon.
President Lee stated that he has decided to grant a special amnesty to Samsung’s chairman so that the businessman can retain his membership in the International Olympic Committee and lead South Korea’s bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Samsung’s chairman died on Sunday six years after being incapacitated by a heart attack.
Almost all former South Korean presidents and many business tycoons have been involved in recurring corruption scandals. Since the 1990s, four former presidents, including Ms. Park and Mr. Lee, have been arrested on corruption charges.
Mr. Lee won the presidency by promising to use his business skills to revitalize the Korean economy. But he was plagued by corruption allegations before and after the election.
Chairman Moon Jae-in won the general election to replace all his predecessors in the impeachment of Ms. Park in 2017. He came to the office and vowed to eradicate corruption between the political elite and the country’s family business group called the chaebol.