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Samsung’s chief, Lee Jae-yong, pleads guilty to a prescription drug charge

  • >>Jin Yu Young, The New York Times
    Published: 2021-10-13 01:48:29 BdST

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Samsung Group heir Jay Y Lee arrives at a court in Seoul, South Korea, Nov 9, 2020. Reuters

The leader of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong, pleaded guilty in Seoul on Tuesday to the illegal use of an anaesthetic, the latest chapter in the legal saga of the heir to South Korea’s largest conglomerate.

Samsung is South Korea’s most important company, with its electronics unit making up almost 20% of the country’s exports, and the nearly five-year soap opera of scandal surrounding Lee has riveted the nation, giving it a peek into both the seedy intersections of industry and politics and the inner life of one of the country’s ultra rich.

For industry watchers, it has raised concerns about Lee’s ability to manage the enormous conglomerate — with business interests ranging from smartphones to life insurance — while under a seemingly unrelenting legal cloud.

Addressing the Seoul Central District Court, Lee said that he had used the surgical anesthetic propofol as part of a skin treatment over five years starting in 2015. A hospital in Gangnam, one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, had issued him dozens of prescriptions for the drug, he said.

South Korean prosecutors had indicted Lee in June on charges of using a narcotic for nonmedical purposes. They have demanded that he pay more than $72,000 in fines. The court is expected to make a final ruling in the case in two weeks.

Employees of the clinic that prescribed the drug have been charged and are facing a separate trial.

Lee, 53, is vice chairman of Samsung and has been running the sprawling business since a heart attack incapacitated his father, Lee Kun-hee, Samsung’s chairman, in 2014. His father died last year, and Lee is his only son.

In 2017, Lee Jae-yong was arrested on bribery charges after being accused of paying $36 million to Choi Soon-sil, a central figure in the nationwide political scandal of the Park Geun-hye administration. He was later convicted and served about a year in prison.

He went to prison for a second time this January for bribing a former South Korean president. Lee was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison by the Seoul High Court, but he was released in August on parole.

Lee also faces separate charges over unfair trading and stock manipulation. He has said he is innocent of those charges.

“I am sorry for causing such a concern over my personal matters,” he said in his closing statements at court Tuesday.

©2021 The New York Times Company