Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong enters the Seoul Central District Court in southern Seoul, for a final court hearing concerning the controversial 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates, Friday. (Yonhap)
Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong took off to Britain over the weekend to join a presidential delegation, according to industry sources on Monday, as he faces a decisive ruling that could possibly lead to a leadership vacuum for the global tech giant.
Lee is taking part in the presidential economic delegation involving other conglomerate chiefs including Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Euisun and LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo. SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, who doubles as the head of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry will join the delegation in Paris.
The business chiefs are to accompany President Yoon Suk Yeol on his state visit to the United Kingdom and then move with him to Paris to rally last-minute support for Busan's bid for the 2030 World Expo. They are expected to attend the meeting of the organizer Bureau International des Expositions for the final vote on Nov. 28.
Two days before his takeoff, prosecutors demanded five years in prison for Lee on charges of stock price rigging and accounting fraud connected to the controversial 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates, on Friday.
Prosecutors also requested a fine of 500 million won ($387,000) for Lee during the final hearing at the Seoul Central District Court.
In the final hearing, Lee refuted the allegation that he deliberately carried out the merger plan to cause damage to other shareholders for his own benefit.
"My goal was to keep the company to survive and grow and earn support from the employees, stakeholders and the people. The merger of the two companies was part of the effort for the goal," Lee said in testimony on Friday.
"I have never prioritized my personal interests in the process of the merger, and I swear I also have never imagined I would increase my shares and hurt other shareholders."
Lee urged that the court understand that his intentions were only for the good of the companies.
"As an entrepreneur, I have a responsibility to continue to create profits and jobs. I ask for an opportunity to focus all of my capabilities solely on moving forward," he added.
The trial began in September 2020, when Lee was accused of pushing for an unfair merger of two Samsung affiliates, Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T Corp.
The final ruling is expected on Jan. 26, 2024. It could possibly continue for three or four more years if Lee appeals.
Lee is in court for an eighth year, having faced charges for several other issues linked to the highly publicized influence-peddling scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye in 2017.
With court proceedings still underway, Lee has not given out an official message or discussed future plans since he was promoted to chairman in November last year.
While becoming a member of the board is widely seen as a symbolic step for Lee to strengthen his control and take on more responsibility in management, Lee has not been on the board since October 2019.
By Jo He-rim (email@example.com)