Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong was freed Monday after a South Korean appeals court gave him a 2 ½-year suspended jail sentence for corruption in connection with a scandal that toppled the country's president.
The Seoul High Court softened the original ruling against Lee, rejecting most of the bribery charges leveled against Lee by prosecutors who sought a 12-year prison term.
While the ruling clears the way for the Samsung vice chairman to resume his role at the helm of the industrial giant founded by his grandfather after a year in prison, he faces a slew of challenges outside prison.
Chief among them will be winning trust that he is capable of running South Korea's biggest company, and assuaging public anger among those who viewed the court's surprise decision as a setback in the war on corruptions.
"The past year was a precious time for personal reflection," Lee told reporters waiting outside the gates of a detention center in southern Seoul.
Lee's first stop from the prison was a Samsung hospital where his father has been hospitalized after suffering a heart attack in 2014.
Lee was charged with offering $38 million in bribes to former President Park Geun-hye and her confidant Choi Soon-sil, embezzling Samsung funds, hiding assets overseas, concealing proceeds from criminal activities and perjury.
The appeals court said Lee was unable to reject the then-president's request to financially support her confidante and was coerced into making the payments. The court still found Lee guilty of giving 3.6 billion won ($3.3 million) in bribes for equestrian training of Choi's daughter and of embezzling the money from Samsung funds.
Lee's lawyer, Lee Injae, told reporters that the Samsung vice chairman still plans to appeal his conviction. Prosecutors also were expected to appeal the court's ruling, making it almost certain the case will go to the Supreme Court.
Lee, 49 and the only son of Samsung's ailing chairman, was given a five-year prison term in August on bribery and other charges linked to a political scandal that took down former South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
Lee has pleaded not guilty to charges he used Samsung corporate funds to bribe Park and a confidante, seeking to consolidate his control over Samsung and facilitate a smooth transfer of corporate leadership from his father. The appeals court rejected the lower court's view that corporate succession was one of the issues at stake.
Many South Koreans were expecting a tough stance from the appeals court and took to social media and online news portals to vent their anger at the ruling and the judge who issued the verdict.
"Republic of Samsung" and the name of the judge who handed down Monday's verdict were among the top trending words on Twitter in Korean.
The earlier ruling against Lee was seen as a departure from the previous court cases that had been criticized for being too soft toward white-collar crime and toward executives of chaebol, the big conglomerates that helped South Korea's rapid industrialization.
Lee's case and the current trial of the former president are seen as tests of the country's commitment to ending cozy ties among South Korea's political and business elite. Such links once were seen as the key to South Korea's impressive rise from the ashes of its 1950-53 war but now are blamed for corruption, inequality and stifling innovation.
Before the final hearing at the appeals court Lee paid back 8 billion won ($7.3 million) to Samsung Electronics. The lower court had said Lee embezzled that amount from Samsung to bribe Choi.
President Donald Trump has tapped one of his own White House attorneys for a judgeship on one of the most important federal appeals courts, opening the door for confirmation hearing questions about the legal controversies that dominated the first seven months of Trump's presidency.
Gregory Katsas was nominated Thursday to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Katsas, the deputy White House counsel, was a former Justice Department official under President George W. Bush. A biography on the White House's website says he has argued more than 75 appeals, including the constitutional challenge to President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court.
He would replace the libertarian-leaning Judge Janice Rogers Brown, who retired this summer. The court is influential, in part because of its role in adjudicating many of the orders and laws put forth by the administration. It is sometimes called America's second highest court because it can be a stepping stone to the Supreme Court just a few blocks away.
Katsas, once a law clerk to Justice Thomas, has served in high-ranking Justice Department roles, including as head of the civil division that has responsibility for defending the administration's policies against court challenges. He is part of the steady stream of Jones Day law firm partners who have flowed into the Trump administration, including White House counsel Don McGahn.
So many Jones Day attorneys work in the White House that the counsel's office issued a blanket ethics waiver for them so that they can maintain contact with their former colleagues without running afoul of ethics provisions. The firm's lawyers continue to represent members of the Trump campaign outside the White House.
In the war being waged by large corporations against individual rights — and, yes, it is a war — a potentially decisive battle was recently fought. It will come as little surprise to any informed observer of American society that it was not the little guy who won.
The U.S. Supreme Court case of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. vs. Superior Court of California, which was decided in favor of BMS in June, may seem like an arcane question of legal jurisdiction. It’s anything but.
The case centered on a drug called Plavix that BMS developed. Plavix, also known by its generic name, clopidogrel, is an anti-platelet used to prevent blood from clotting inside blood vessels. Ever since the drug was approved by the FDA in 1997, thousands of people have claimed that it caused them gastrointestinal bleeding, severe bleeding from relatively minor cuts, and even brain damage.
Even though the company had significant business activities in California, as well as sales of Plavix and other drugs, a contract with a California distributor to distribute Plavix nationally, and employed hundreds of people in the state, BMS argued that California state courts could not exercise “personal jurisdiction” over the company for claims brought on behalf of people who lived, used Plavix, and were allegedly injured by the drug outside of California.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of BMS is a staggering blow for millions of Americans harmed each year by the reckless and abusive behavior of pharmaceutical companies. The decision raises an almost insurmountably high hurdle between victims and their hopes for obtaining justice in state courts throughout the country.
By foreclosing to plaintiffs’ state court venues other than those where these companies are “at home” — generally meaning where they are headquartered or incorporated — the Supreme Court has placed an almost impossible burden on state court litigants. They will now be forced to sue in far-off courts, convince experts to travel out of state to testify, and shuttle between their home states and wherever the drug company is at home. Their alternative will be pursing claims in federal court — but still also likely in a different state — where they will be subject to different laws, rules, and standards to prove their claims.
Several leading community groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Chicago Wednesday in a bid to bypass or even scuttle a draft agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice that seeks to reform the nation's second largest police force without federal court oversight.
The more than 100-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago argues that an overhaul of Chicago's 12,000-officer force in the wake of a damning civil rights report in January can't work without the intense scrutiny of a court-appointed monitor answerable to a judge.
"Absent federal court supervision, nothing will improve," the lawsuit says. "It is clear that federal court intervention is essential to end the historical and on-going pattern and practice of excessive force by police officers in Chicago."
While President Donald Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has expressed skepticism about court involvement, President Barack Obama's administration saw it as vital to successful reforms. Obama's Justice Department typically took a city reform plan to a judge to make it legally binding in the form of a consent decree.
Wednesday's lawsuit — which names Black Lives Matters Chicago among the plaintiffs — asks for a federal court to intervene and order sweeping reforms to end the "abusive policies and practices undergirding the alleged constitutional and state law violations."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration said earlier this month that a draft deal negotiated by the city and the Justice Department — one that foresees a monitor not selected by a court — is being reviewed in Washington. Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malle cautioned last week that "there is no agreement at this time."
A lead attorney in the new lawsuit, Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor and outspoken advocate for far-reaching police reforms, said in a telephone interview that reports about the draft influenced the decision to sue now.