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Samsung chief jailed for two and a half years for bribery scandal

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SEOUL : The de facto chief of South Korea's Samsung business empire was convicted yesterday over a huge corruption scandal and jailed for 2½ years in a ruling that deprives the tech giant of its top decision-maker.

Lee Jae-yong, vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics, the world's biggest maker of smartphones and memory chips, was found guilty of bribery and embezzlement in connection with the scandal that brought down president Park Geun-hye.

Lee "actively provided bribes and implicitly asked the president to use her power to help his smooth succession" at the head of the sprawling conglomerate, the Seoul Central District Court said in its verdict.

"It is very unfortunate that Samsung, the country's top company and proud global innovator, is repeatedly involved in crimes whenever there is a change in political power."

The court jailed Lee for 2½ years, concluding a retrial that was the latest step in a long-running legal process that has hung over Samsung for years.

The multi-billionaire - who had walked into court grim-faced and wearing a mask, without responding to reporters shouting questions - was immediately taken into custody.

He has effectively been at the head of the entire Samsung group for several years after his father was left bedridden by a heart attack. His father died in October last year.

Samsung is by far the biggest of the family-controlled conglomerates, or chaebols, that dominate business in the world's 12th-largest economy.

Its overall turnover is equivalent to a fifth of the national gross domestic product and is crucial to South Korea's economic health.

Experts say the sentence will create a leadership vacuum that could hamper its decision-making on future large-scale investments.

"It is really a huge blow and a big crisis for Samsung," said business professor at Sejong University Kim Dae-jong.

Lee was first jailed for five years in 2017, after Park's ouster. He walked free the following year when an appeals court dismissed most of his bribery convictions and gave him a suspended sentence, but the Supreme Court later ordered the 52-year-old to face a retrial. - AFP