WHEN A COURT in Seoul ordered that Lee Jae-Yong be released from jail in February last year, Samsung’s boss had reason to believe that the worst was over. Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s left-wing president, who had kept his distance from its biggest chaebol (conglomerate) for its role in the scandal that brought down his predecessor, was quick to mend relations.
Last autumn he took Mr Lee on a jolly to North Korea. Earlier this year, he launched his national semiconductor strategy at a Samsung factory outside Seoul. For a while, it even looked as though Mr Lee might be able to resume the process which the judges who handed down his sentence for bribery had so rudely interrupted: restructuring shareholding to ensure long-term family control over Samsung.
Such hopes were dashed on August 29th, when the Supreme Court overturned the ruling by a lower court that had suspended Mr Lee’s prison sentence and ordered his case to be retried. The judges said that, contrary to Mr Lee’s claims, Samsung had not been exhorted by a confidante of Park Geun-hye, the disgraced former president, when it gave her daughter three horses worth around $3m.
Rather, the horses were bribes meant to ensure government support for a controversial merger, which was part of a plan to ensure the smooth transfer of control to Mr Lee from his ailing father (Samsung has always denied that such a plan exists).