Samsung scandal: Who is Lee Jae-yong?

Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., arrives for his trial at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea 7 August 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A court ruled Lee should spend the next five years in prison

A year ago, simply finding a photograph of Lee Jae-yong was tricky.

He had just been elected to the board at Samsung Electronics, and one of the few images available showed him as a younger man, smiling, with a name badge clipped to a lilac V-neck sweater.

There is no shortage of pictures now, but smiles and upbeat knitwear are in limited supply. In the latest images, he is handcuffed, flanked by police as he leaves court for prison.

A year ago the biggest charge against Lee was that he had risen through the Samsung ranks because of who he was rather than his abilities. But he has since faced far more serious allegations that have resulted in a five-year jail term.

Who is Lee Jae-yong?

The 49-year-old, also known as Jay Y Lee, is the son of Lee Kun-hee, chairman of Samsung Group, Korea's largest conglomerate. He is also the grandson of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul.

With a degree from South Korea's top university and a doctorate from Harvard Business School, he has been groomed to take over the family firm.

He became a Samsung president in 2009 and in 2013 was made vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics, the division which makes gadgets from smartphones and televisions to cameras and hard drives.

But since Lee's father suffered a heart attack in 2014, he has been considered de facto boss of the entire Samsung group.

Forbes ranks the divorced father-of-two as the 40th most powerful person in the world, with a net worth of almost $6bn (£4.9bn).

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Lee's biggest product launch to-date had been the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7

What was he accused of?

In February 2017, Lee Jae-yong was arrested and then charged over his alleged role in a political and corporate scandal linked to South Korea's then president, Park Geun-hye.

Charges against Lee included bribery, embezzlement, hiding assets overseas and perjury.

Samsung was accused of paying 43bn won ($36.4m; £30.3m) to two non-profit foundations operated by Choi Soon-sil, a friend of Ms Park, in exchange for political support.

More specifically, the favours were alleged to include backing for a controversial Samsung merger which paved the way for Lee to become eventual head of the conglomerate, a deal that needed support from the government-run national pension fund.

Lee denied the charges. He admitted making donations but denied Samsung wanted anything in return. But in August 2017 a court convicted him of the charges and sent him to prison for five years.

What does this mean for Samsung?

Lawyers for Lee say they will appeal, and in the past top executives jailed in South Korea have received presidential pardons. But this is unlikely in this case - Ms Park was impeached and removed from power and is behind bars as her corruption trial takes place.

New President Moon Jae-in has promised a cleaner administration and an end to special treatment for the business elite who run the chaebol, family-run companies crucial to the national economy.

Samsung has sales equivalent to about a fifth of the country's GDP. To date it has appeared unaffected by Lee's absence, with Samsung Electronics posting record profits this quarter.

It is not clear who will stand in for Lee. But experts on the chaebol say Samsung's top boss has traditionally played a passive role in day-to-day operations, and in court Lee described his knowledge of group operations as "limited", saying he was still learning.

More on this story