SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean judge overseeing Samsung Group heir Jay Y. Lee’s bribery trial told him on Friday to “humbly accept” whatever the outcome of the trial, which could result in a tougher sentence for the conglomerate’s de-facto leader.
Lee, whose Korean name is Lee Jae-yong, attended the first hearing of a bribery trial at Seoul High Court after South Korea’s top court ordered a review of his 2017 graft case.
The Supreme Court overturned in August part of an appeals court bribery conviction against the third-generation Samsung leader, who was given a two-and-a-half-year suspended sentence for seeking favours from former president Park Geun-hye.
The court said the interpretation by the Seoul High Court on what constituted bribes by Samsung to Park was too narrow.
“Please take this trial with an attitude to humbly accept whatever results of the trial will be,” presiding judge Jung Joon-young said before wrapping up the 40-minute hearing.
Arriving at the courthouse earlier, Lee stepped out of a van to a throng of journalists and made a brief comment but did not answer questions about the accusation he gave bribes to influence former South Korean President Park.
“I feel very sorry for causing concerns for many people,” a sombre Lee said, bowing his head and walking into the court as anti-Samsung protesters jeered.
Judge Jung said Samsung should have internal control systems to prevent crimes committed by top executives of the conglomerate.
He also asked the 51-year-old Lee to show leadership at the country’s top corporate giant, comparing him to his ailing father who suffered a heart attack in 2014.
“In 1993, at age of 51, Lee Kun-hee dropped old and rotten practices and declared a new management of Samsung and overcame crisis. In 2019, Lee Jae-yong who became 51, what declaration should Lee make?” Jung told a packed courtroom.
“Please do what you need to do and can do even during the trial period as the leader of the corporation,” he told Lee.
The trial comes as current South Korean President Moon Jae-in seeks help from big business leaders to resuscitate a fragile economy. Data on Thursday showed South Korean economic growth slowed more than expected in the third quarter.
Moon thanked Lee for Samsung’s commitment at a ceremony this month unveiling an $11 billion investment in display technologies.
The Supreme Court last week closed a separate bribery case involving Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin, allowing him to stay out of jail with a suspended jail sentence.
After the hearing, Lee and his lawyers did not answer questions from the media and left the courthouse.
Legal experts say a fresh verdict will be unlikely this year, meaning a further extension to legal troubles which have hovered over Lee and Samsung for nearly three years.
As a defendant in a criminal case, Lee is required to attend the trial and told the judge he would come to the next hearing on Nov. 22.
The case against Lee centred on whether three horses donated by Samsung Group [SAGR.UL] should be considered bribes aimed at winning Park’s favour in the conglomerate’s succession planning. The horses were given to the daughter of Park’s confidante, Choi Seo-won, a professional equestrian.
The Supreme Court said the appeals court erred in not recognising the horses as bribes given by Samsung to win favours, raising the possibility of Lee returning to jail.
Lee, vice chairman of the group's flagship company Samsung Electronics Co 005930.KS, has already served one year of detention but walked free last year after the appellate court halved a lower court's five-year jail sentence and suspended it for three years.
Reporting by Heekyong Yang; writing by Ju-min Park; Editing by Jack Kim and Lincoln Feast.
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