The conviction of Samsung Group's heir apparent Lee Jae-yong bodes ill for former President Park Geun-hye, who is on trial for receiving bribes from Lee, observers said Monday. They were each sentenced to four years in prison.
The sentence handed down to Lee will also play a part in Park's trial, with Park likely to face a prison sentence herself.
The list of bribes included $3.2 million sent to a front company owned by the confidant, Choi Soon-sil, as well as thoroughbred horses of a similar worth that the company gave to Choi's daughter. The trials are now being carried out separately, but given that these charges are two sides of the same coin, the judges assigned to the Park case can't help but take this judgement into consideration.
According to criminal law, those who are found guilty of offering bribes are punished by a prison term of up to five years.
Experts, however, said Samsung is expected to face challenges over the long-term as the company may struggle to make decisions for key projects including merger and acquisitions.
"The essence of this case is the unethical bond between politics and money", Judge Kim Jin-dong said.
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A scandal which has re-shaped South Korean politics and rocked the country's elite - overshadowing even North Korean missile threats - began when reporters at CNN affiliate JTBC found a computer belonging to Choi Soon-sil late a year ago.
He is accused of paying almost $40milliom in bribes to Park's secret confidante to secure policy favours.
As global tech giants are aggressively making investments to take the lead in the artificial intelligence, Internet-of-Things and virtual reality industries, industry watchers said the prolonged absence in Samsung's leadership may cause the company to fall behind the competition.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in's office, in a rare commentary on a court ruling, welcomed the ruling as a step toward rooting out corruption. Lee was found not guilty on this charge, however.
Other than the bribery charge, Park is also accused of abusing her authority to help Choi's business interests, exclude artists critical of Park from state support and sack government officials who refused to aid or abet her wrongdoings. Conservative outlets were "asking to become Samsung's lawyers" by claiming the ruling lacked evidence, it said, adding: "It is hoped they will no longer ask to become the press that kneeled before the chaebol". The court's finding was that "the president's level of involvement in using the foundations in the pursuit of personal gain was active and significantly high".
Analysts said the verdict will not immediately have an impact on Samsung's business operations, which are overseen by three chief executives.