South Korea’s top court on Thursday ordered a new trial for Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong, who was convicted of offences including bribery and embezzlement in connection with the scandal that brought down former president Park Geun-hye.
The de facto head of the world’s biggest smartphone and memory chip maker, Lee was jailed for five years in 2017 but freed a year later after an appeals court dismissed most of his bribery convictions and gave him a suspended sentence.
The Supreme Court set aside that decision Thursday and sent his case back for new proceedings.
The decision is a blow to the company, which is by far the biggest of the family-controlled conglomerates that dominate business in the world’s 11th-largest economy, and crucial to the country’s financial health.
It already faces a weak global chip market and fresh challenges from export restrictions imposed by Tokyo over key chipmaking chemicals amid a long-running dispute between the neighbours over wartime history.
Japan’s move threatens to disrupt memory chip production and Lee has called it a “crisis”, visiting Tokyo to seek to secure materials.
His court case centred on millions of dollars his firm paid to Park’s secret confidante Choi Soon-sil, allegedly for government favours such as ensuring a smooth succession for Lee to take over the leadership of the sprawling conglomerate from his ailing father.
Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su said Thursday that Lee’s case would be sent back for new proceedings to readdress multiple allegations, including bribery convictions that had been overturned by the appeals court.