South Korea mulls giving Samsung boss a get out of jail free card

monopoly (1)While most countries would have no problem locking a businessman up if they think he has committed a crime, South Korea has to factor in the economic impact the arrest will cause.

South Korea’s special prosecutor said it will take into account the economic impact of whether to arrest Samsung boss Jay Lee in connection with an influence-peddling investigation involving the president.

The office also delayed its decision until later today on whether to seek the arrest of Lee, the third-generation leader of South Korea’s largest conglomerate, or chaebol, citing the gravity of the case.

Spokesman Lee Kyu-chul told reporters on Sunday investigators were deliberating all factors including the potential economic impact of the arrest of Jay Y. Lee.

Samsung appears to have provided $25.46 million to a business and foundations backed by President Park Geun-hye’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, in exchange for the national pension fund’s support for a 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates.

The Samsung chief denied bribery accusations during a parliamentary hearing in December.

Effectively if the coppers factor in the economic effect then Jay Lee could be given a get out of jail free card.

Park, the daughter of a military ruler, has denied wrongdoing, although she has said sorry for exercising poor judgment. Her friend, Choi, who is in detention and facing her own trial, has also denied wrongdoing.

The whole thing must feel particularly unpleasant for those who see the rule of law as sacrosanct. The chiefs of South Korean chaebol have over the years had prison sentences shortened or forgiven, or received pardons, with the economic impact of imprisonment cited as a factor.

Jay Lee’s dad Lee Kun-hee was handed a three-year suspended jail sentence in 2009 for tax evasion. He was later pardoned.

It seems that if you have a lot of money and run a business in South Korea you can do what you like.