South Korean prosecutors on Wednesday requested a nine-year prison term for Samsung’s de facto chief, Lee Jae-yong, during a retrial of his bribery charges.
The case is a key element in an explosive 2016 scandal that triggered months of public protests and toppled the country’s president.
The development comes as Lee faces immense pressure to navigate Samsung’s transition after his father and Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-Hee died in October at age 78 after years of hospitalisation.
Special prosecutor Park Young-soo demanded the Seoul High Court sentence Lee to prison. He said Samsung “more actively sought illicit benefits” than other businesses with regard to the 2016 scandal.
Park said Samsung, which is South Korea’s biggest company, should “set the example” for efforts to root out corruption.
Lee, 52, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, was sentenced in 2017 to five years in prison for offering 8.6 billion won (USD 7 million) in bribes to former President Park Geun-hye and one of her longtime confidants to get her government’s backing for his push to solidify his control over Samsung.
But he was freed in early 2018 after the Seoul High Court reduced his term to 2 ½ years and suspended his sentence, overturning key convictions and reducing the amount of his bribes.
Last year, the Supreme Court returned the case to the high court, ruling that the amount of Lee’s bribes had been undervalued.
In September, prosecutors separately indicted Lee for alleged stock price manipulation, breach of trust and auditing violations related to a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates that helped strengthen Lee’s control over the group’s crown jewel, Samsung Electronics.
Lee’s lawyers denied the charges, calling them “one-sided claims.” They say the 2015 merger was “normal business activity.”