The billionaire heir of the Samsung business empire could face a lengthy time in jail as prosecutors in South Korea demanded on Monday that he be sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in a corruption scandal that led to the impeachment of the country’s last president.
At the final hearing in the trial of Lee Jae-Yong, the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, prosecutors called him the “ultimate beneficiary” of crimes committed in the scandal, which culminated in the impeachment and dismissal of President Park Geun-Hye earlier this year.
If the judges convict him and agree with the sentence recommendation it will be among the harshest penalties ever passed on a top executive of a chaebol, the big, family-controlled businesses that dominate South Korea’s economy.
Lee became emotional Monday as he denied ever trying to seek political favors in his final remarks in the four-month-long trial. He was arrested in February amid a tumultuous corruption scandal that triggered months of massive public protests and culminated with Park’s ouster.
A panel of three judges at the Seoul Central District Court said they will hand down their verdict on August 25.
Lee, princeling of South Korea’s richest family and its biggest company, choked up during his final remarks, saying his ordeal was unjust but he had reflected during his six months in jail and realized that the bigger Samsung became, “the stricter and higher the expectations from the public and the society,” a pool report from Monday’s hearing said.
“Whether it was for my personal profit or for myself, I have never asked the president for any favors,” he told the court.
“I once again deeply regret and apologize for causing a huge disappointment,” he told the court in his final statement.
His lawyers say the allegations were unjustified and the defendants never sought anything in return for the money that was donated.
In his remarks wrapping up the trial, Special Prosecutor Park Young Soo said Samsung’s alleged bribery was typical of the corrupt and cozy ties between the South Korea’s government and big businesses.
Such dealings once helped fuel the country’s rapid industrialization but now increasingly are viewed as illegal and unfair.
The prosecutor also accused Samsung officials of lying in their testimonies to protect Lee.
Prosecutors are seeking heavy penalties for four other former Samsung executives who had belonged to a once-powerful corporate strategy office that handled such activities.
Prosecutors are seeing a 10-year sentence for Lee’s mentor Choi Gee-sung, a former vice chairman at Samsung Electronics. They requested seven to 10-year terms for three other former Samsung executives.
A Samsung Group spokeswoman said it had no comment on the prosecutors’ request.
Lee, 49, has effectively been at the helm of Samsung, which has revenues equivalent to about a fifth of the country’s GDP, since his father Samsung chair Lee Kun-hee was left bedridden by a heart attack in 2014.
South Korean police officials confirmed Monday that they are investigating Lee’s father on allegations of embezzlement and a tax law violation. Police officials raided the office that oversaw interior decorating of the elder Lee’s private house in central Seoul.
Despite these developments, Samsung Electronics shares have risen strongly in recent months on soaring profits, driven by strong demand for its memory chips. They closed down 0.25 percent on Seoul’s stock market on Monday.
One of the favors Lee allegedly sought from Park was state approval for a controversial merger of two Samsung units in 2015, seen as a key step to ensuring a smooth power transfer to him.
The deal was opposed by shareholders who said it willfully undervalued shares of one of the firms. But it eventually went through after the national pension fund — a major Samsung shareholder — approved it.