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South Korea's business leaders call on Moon to free jailed Samsung boss Lee

South Korea's business leaders call on Moon to free jailed Samsung boss Lee

FILE PHOTO: Samsung Group heir Jay Y. Lee arrives at a court in Seoul, South Korea, November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

SEOUL: Leaders of South Korea's largest conglomerates urged President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday (Jun 2) to pardon Jay Y Lee, the jailed vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, to maintain the country's edge in the chip industry.

The plea was made during a luncheon between Moon and chiefs of four major business empires - Samsung, Hyundai, LG and SK - designed to boost economic cooperation after Moon and US President Joe Biden agreed to bolster the global supply chain for high-tech manufacturing.

Lee, the 52-year-old heir of the world's biggest memory chip maker and second-largest contract chip manufacturer, has been sentenced to 30 months in prison after being convicted of bribery, embezzlement and other offences.

SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won asked Moon to consider a petition for Lee's release that was submitted in April jointly by five business lobbies including the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry headed by Chey, according to Moon's spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee.

Moon replied that he "understood" difficulties for the companies, Park said. He did not elaborate, but appeared more open to the idea after simply saying at a news conference in March that he would consider public opinion before deciding.

Moon had vowed to not pardon serious economic crimes such as bribery and embezzlement before taking office in 2017.

Business leaders have highlighted the need for Lee to be active to retain South Korea's leading position in the chip industry amid global shortages.

"Semiconductors require large-scale investment decisions, and leaders can only make such decisions in a swift manner," said Kinam Kim, vice chairman and CEO of Samsung's device business.

Biden has called for greater South Korean investment, and Samsung confirmed a plan to funnel US$17 billion into a new plant for chip contract manufacturing in the US during Moon's trip to Washington.

Lee is in a unique position overseeing all three of Samsung's divisions - chips, smartphones and home appliances, said Park Jea-gun, a professor at Hanyang University in Seoul.

"It's hard to make big business decisions if not the owner," Park said.

But the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, an activist group that resists pardoning chaebol chiefs, issued a statement saying releasing Lee would "abuse the legal system to justify corporate crimes". 

Source: Reuters


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