Back then, Mr. Lee was given briefings on key issues and provided instructions when his executives visited him behind bars, and that is likely to happen again, said Kang Jong-min, a chaebol expert at Solidarity for Economic Reform, a watchdog group in Seoul.
Although Mr. Lee holds the title of vice chairman, he has been running the conglomerate since a heart attack incapacitated his father in 2014. Mr. Lee, also known as J.Y. Lee, was his father’s only son.
His legal trouble began when massive protests in Seoul led the country’s National Assembly to impeach Ms. Park in December 2016 on charges of collecting or seeking bribes from Samsung and other chaebol, and for abusing her power. Ms. Park was removed from office by the country’s Constitutional Court in March 2017. Last week, the Supreme Court sentenced Ms. Park to 20 years in prison.
Mr. Lee was arrested in February 2017 on charges of bribing Ms. Park and her secretive friend, Choi Soon-sil, to obtain the government’s support for a merger of two Samsung subsidiaries in 2015. The merger was meant to tighten his control over Samsung.
As the first top executive at Samsung to be arrested, the news made international headlines.
In August 2017, a Seoul district court sentenced Mr. Lee to five years in prison for offering 8.9 billion won, or $8 million, in bribes to Ms. Park and to Ms. Choi to finance the training of Ms. Choi’s equestrian daughter and Ms. Choi’s other sports projects. Most of the money was embezzled through Samsung.
In 2018, the Seoul High Court found that the bribes had totaled just 3.6 billion won, reduced Mr. Lee’s prison term to two and a half years, and suspended the sentence. Mr. Lee was released from prison on the basis of that ruling.
But his fortunes shifted again in 2019, when the Supreme Court returned the case to the Seoul High Court for a retrial, saying that it had underestimated the amount of bribes Mr. Lee had paid. The Supreme Court said the amount should be 8.6 billion won, not 3.6 billion, as the lower court had found.