Samsung group’s scion Lee Jae-yong was released on parole on Friday, seven months after he was imprisoned over bribery.
The vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics Co. offered a public apology as he left the Seoul Detention Center in Uiwang, where his supporters, as well as protestors, had gathered outside for the tycoon.
“I apologize for causing people great concern,” Lee said, briefly speaking to reporters. “I am well aware of those concerns, criticisms and expectations of me.”
He was among 810 inmates who were granted parole by the Ministry of Justice in celebration of the 15 August Liberation Day.
Some activists decried Lee’s early release, which they said exhibited excessive leniency toward him.
“The Moon Jae-in government conceded (by releasing Lee) that chaebol stay above the law,” a labor activist associated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said outside the detention center.
Another protestor wondered what President Moon was thinking to see the release of Lee whose graft and abuse of power had ousted former President Park Geun-hye, Moon’s immediate predecessor.
Similar protests erupted near Cheong Wa Dae, where more than 1,000 civic groups issued a joint statement condemning the decision to release the tycoon.
At the same time, Lee’s supporters waved signs that said “We support your efforts for economic development,” and “Please help build the world’s best business.”
Lee had been serving time since he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison by the Seoul High Court on 18 January in a retrial of a bribery case involving former President Park.
He was seen arriving at the Samsung headquarters in southern Seoul at around 11 am.
He was convicted of bribing Park and her longtime friend to win government support for a smooth father-to-son transfer of managerial power at the conglomerate.
Lee should abide by parole conditions, such as reporting to the parole office in advance if he plans to move his residence or leave the country for more than a month, among other things.
He is also banned from returning to work at Samsung for five years under the Act on the Aggravated Punishment of Specific Economic Crimes. The ministry did not lift the restriction.
He is also on separate trial over the controversial merger of two Samsung affiliates and the vice chairman’s allegedly illegal use of propofol, an anesthesia-inducing medication.