Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jae-yong has been freed after his sentence was suspended by the appellate court on Monday.
The arrest of Samsung's vice chairman and acting head Lee Jae-yong, son of now incapacitated chairman Lee Kun-hee, is possibly the biggest company scandal in the last, I don't know, four months? President Park pardoned Lee in August 2016. He also received a suspended jail sentence. The court had also reduced or suspended the other leaders sentences. However, he will not be under police surveillance and is free to continue his career at the head of Samsung Electronics.
"The past year was a precious time for personal reflection", Lee told reporters waiting outside the gates of a detention center in southern Seoul. "The issue is the company's earnings and I think I need to be more conservative than previously about its earnings, due to concerns over various factors - a stronger won, US trade and the OLED business".
Another legal duel is likely.
The appeals court said Lee was unable to reject the then-president's request to financially support her confidante Choi Soon-sil and was coerced to make the payment.
Despite Lee's pleading not guilty, few had expected that he would walk out of prison. She is standing trial on charges of bribery, abuse of power, and coercion.
"I don't think it matters who the president is, the judicial system has its own logic and I think the system is very flawed", said Mike Breen, Seoul-based author of 'The Koreans". Now, some fear the court has sent a message that Samsung and the other chaebol are in the clear.
Business leaders unaccountable; political leaders over-accountable? He left the court shortly after the verdict was read, climbing into a bus that was waiting outside.
The court found Lee still guilty of giving 3.6 billion won ($4.5 million NZD) in bribery for the equestrian training of Choi's daughter. Moreover, Samsung's stock price has hit all-times highs during Lee's time in jail.
Choi is in custody on charges of meddling in state affairs without holding a government position and using her connections with the president to extort vast sums of money from many of South Korea's best-known companies.
"They even have a term for it here, called jail management".
Customarily, the judiciary has taken note. Samsung accounts for a considerable part of the South Korean economy.
His release on Monday means he spent a total of 353 days in prison.
"Powerful people always win, whether it's in business or in politics", said Jung Myeong-suk, a 65-year-old security guard.
But leading conservative newspapers Chosun Ilbo and Joong-Ang Ilbo, which together account for a 70 percent share of the South Korean newspaper market, chose to establish their own lines of defense for Lee. Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide when the succeeding administration started investigating his family members for corruption.
Neither Lee nor Samsung shared any immediate comment on the dismissal of the case. Another circus trial has concluded as most believed it would.