Samsung’s de facto leader will be a tad emboldened

Robyn Mak | Friday, 12 August 2022

Samsung Electronics scion Jay Y. Lee has won a presidential pardon, signalling the beginning of the end of a governance mess at the $310 billion conglomerate. It may encourage the South Korean tycoon to some bold dealmaking.

It is a small but significant change for the world's largest memory chipmaker. Its de facto decision maker has been on parole since last year after serving some 18 months in prison for bribery and other charges. The pardon removes certain work restrictions, including employment and travel curbs. Lee, who still holds a vice chairman title despite stepping down from Samsung's board in 2020, may now be able to have an official executive role.

The free pass also removes an unnecessary distraction from Samsung’s daunting to-do list. While Lee’s legal scandals have played out, Samsung has fallen behind peers in new technologies like autonomous driving. Deteriorating US-China ties also require a delicate balancing act from a company with customers in both countries.

Lee remains on trial for separate accounting fraud and stock manipulation charges, which he has denied, but investors can take comfort from the light at the end of the tunnel. 

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are their own.