President Moon is undecided as to whether he should pardon Lee Jae-yong

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the chiefs of Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and SK met earlier today to discuss business strategies following Moon’s meeting with US President Joe Biden last month. As revealed yesterday, another topic of conversation was the release of Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong from prison, and President Moon replied.

The idea of pardoning Lee Jae-yong after he was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison on account of bribery has been hanging in the air for a few months now. Back in April, five major lobby groups in South Korea petitioned for the pardon of Lee Jae-yong’s, arguing that Samsung needs leadership amid the semiconductor shortage, especially if South Korea wants to remain a top player in this segment.

President Moon hasn’t reached a final decision on the matter, but the petition was brought to his attention again earlier today by SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won.

Moon Jae-in ‘understood’ the difficulties faced by South Korea’s major companies

According to Reuters citing Moon’s spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee, the president told the five business leaders that he “understood” the difficulties faced by South Korea’s major companies following Lee’s imprisonment at a time when the global semiconductor market is facing a crisis. The president appears to be more open to the idea of a pardon, but a final decision has yet to be reached.

While business leaders and even Buddhist monks have pleaded for Lee’s pardon, some people oppose this idea. The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy is an activist group that’s against pardoning chaebol chiefs. The group issued a statement saying that the release of Lee Yae-yong would “abuse the legal system to justify corporate crimes.”

President Moon’s decision isn’t made any easier by the fact that he vowed not to pardon serious economic crimes — including bribery and embezzlement — before he got elected in 2017. On the other hand, deciding against Lee’s early release from prison could have serious ramifications across the industry.

“Semiconductors require large-scale investment decisions, and leaders can only make such decisions in a swift manner,” said Kinam Kin, vice chairman and CEO of Samsung’s device business. Hanyang University Professor Park Jea-gun said, “It’s hard to make big business decisions if not the owner.” Without Lee at the helm, South Korea could lose the semiconductor race to rival companies within the next few years.

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