Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong is acquitted of financial crimes by South Korean court

A South Korean court acquitted Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong who was accused of stock price manipulation and accounting fraud in relation to a contentious merger between two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that tightened his grip over South Korea’s biggest company.

The ruling by the Seoul Central District Court on Monday could ease the legal troubles surrounding the Samsung heir less than two years after he was pardoned of a separate conviction of bribing a former president in a corruption scandal that toppled a previous South Korean government.

The court said the prosecution failed to sufficiently prove that the merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries was unlawfully conducted with an aim to strengthen Lee’s control over Samsung Electronics.

Prosecutors had sought a five-year jail term for Lee. It wasn’t immediately clear whether they would appeal. Lee had denied wrongdoing over the current case, saying that the 2015 merger was part of “normal business activity.”

Lee served 18 months in prison after being convicted in 2017 over separate bribery charges related to the 2015 deal. He was originally sentenced for five years in prison for offering 8.6 billion won ($6.4 million) worth of bribes to former President Park Geun-hye and her close confidante to win government support for the 2015 merger, which was key to strengthening his control over the Samsung business empire.

Lee was released on parole in 2021 and pardoned by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in 2022, in moves that extended a history of leniency toward major white-collar crime in South Korea and preferential treatment for convicted tycoons.