SEOUL, Aug. 9 (Korea Bizwire) — One would think that the looming possibility of a double digit prison sentence would have the plaintiff arguing for one’s innocence. Instead, in what may well be the darkest hour of his life, Lee Jae Yong is pouring his heart out trying to convince people that he’s not a bad person.
On the 7th, vice-chairman Lee of Samsung Electronics emerged from his now going on sixth month residency at the Seoul Detention Center to give his last testimony in court. Looking worn, the multi-billionaire sat quietly until his turn to speak arrived. He stood up, holding a flimsy green notebook that he had purchased in the detention center and filled with his thoughts. He began to read out loud.
“During the six months that I have been detained, I have felt wrongfully accused and exasperated. However, despite my feelings, I have tried to use this time as an opportunity for reflection.
I always resolved to myself, that when I assumed this position of leadership, that I would do it properly. Not only would I observe the law and walk the right path, I would become a businessman that wins respect and acknowledgement from society.
But, before I have even set down this path I find myself standing in a court of law. I feel overwhelmed and unsettled with a thousand different emotions swirling inside me.”
As he spoke, Lee was clearly emotional, with his voice at times wavering. However, he held steady and pushed on, until he began to speak about the allegations levied against him regarding the merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries. He looked up from his notes and was visibly distraught.
“No matter how terrible a person I might be, would I try take advantage of the pensions that the people have saved for their retirement? This is too grave a misunderstanding. I cannot bear it.”
According to his legal defense team and those close to him, Lee has been very sensitive to accusations that he deliberately caused the National Pension Service (NPS) to suffer losses to bolster his own standing within the Samsung Group hierarchy. He had on more than one occasion expressed the desire to “disprove the false belief that [he] had caused financial damages to the NPS”.
Which is one possible reason why Lee spent nearly a third of the allotted time for his final testimony in remonstrating against the misjudgment of his character.
A finance industry insider with knowledge of Lee’s sentiments said, “It’s known that [Lee] in regards to the losses suffered by the NPS would insist ‘Would I harm the retirement plans of the people to increase my business holdings’”. He further added when hearing about Lee’s protests, “It looks like he wanted to express what he felt one last time through his final testimony.”
Perhaps Lee is none too concerned about the pending ruling; heads of chaebol, or family-owned conglomerates, have shown remarkable ability in either avoiding prison time or getting out early. Perhaps Lee believes that regardless of imprisonment or not, what may be more damning in the end not only for him but for the entire Samsung brand is the perception that he willingly devastated people’s futures for personal gain. Or of course, he may simply be innocent.
One will be hard-pressed to find people who believe that, however. On the same day, a petition bearing 2,729 signatures was submitted to the Seoul Central District Court. The petition, calling for Lee to be punished to the full letter of the law, was the collaborative work of two civic groups that stand for the rights of Samsung employees and laborers in the semiconductor industry. They held a press conference in front of the court building.
“We will be watching the ongoing trial with the hope that this country will become a nation that punishes wrongdoers, regardless of how much money and power they may have.
Vice-chairman Lee is on trial for bribing those in power with funds in the billions of won that he embezzled in collusion with executives from Samsung’s Future Strategy Office. He did this to ensure his inheritance of Samsung Group.
Despite the ongoing trial over the past few months, Samsung has not shown even a hint of apology [for its actions].
To solve the issue of laborers falling ill and dying, vice-chairman Lee must be punished to the full letter of the law.”
Seemingly in response to such allegations, Lee did declare his innocence in his testimony. Pointing a finger at his chest, Lee said adamantly. “I have never made a request to the president or have expected anything from her for personal benefit.” It remains to be seen whether Lee has successfully convinced the court of his innocence and the world of his character.
S.B. Woo (firstname.lastname@example.org)