Leaders of South Korea’s major corporations urged President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday to pardon Jay Y. Lee, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s jailed vice chairman, in order to keep the country’s chip-making edge.
Moon made the request during a luncheon with the CEOs of four major business conglomerates – Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and SK – to promote economic cooperation after Moon and US Vice President Joe Biden agreed to strengthen 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.
Legal experts believe Lee is eligible for parole, as he has served more than half of his 30-month sentence. South Korean law allows parole to be granted after one-third of the sentence has been served, with the detainee showing exemplary behavior.
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.
During Moon’s visit to Washington, Biden advocated for more South Korean investment, and Samsung confirmed a proposal to invest $17 billion in a new semiconductor contract manufacturing factory in the United States.
According to Park Jea-gun, a professor at Hanyang University in Seoul, Lee is in a unique position supervising all three of Samsung’s divisions: chips, cellphones, and home appliances.
“If you’re not the owner, it’s difficult to make huge business decisions,” Park added.
However, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, an activist group opposed to chaebol chiefs being pardoned, issued a statement stating Lee’s release will “exploit the legal system to legitimize corporate crimes.”