Add a feather in prosecutors’ cap today in the arduous Samsung crackdown: Samsung Electronics’ chairman, Lee Sang-hoon, has been sentenced in Seoul to 18 months in prison for attempted union-busting activities in violation of labor laws.
The Wall Street Journal reports that two dozen Samsung officials have been found guilty on related counts, including charges related to collecting financial, marital, and mental health information on members of the customer service department’s union.
This concludes a years-long investigation into allegations of Samsung’s underhanded business dealings, which was set in motion in 2013 when a South Korean politician leaked an internal company guideline for stymying and breaking up unions. The investigation was dropped and reopened again after prosecutors raided Samsung Electronics as part of a separate investigation and obtained thousands of similar documents related to union-busting. In 2018, prosecutors indicted 32 people, including Lee, for what they reportedly called “an organized crime that mobilized the whole company to its full capacity,” alleging that the cabal had threatened to cut wages for union employees.
Separately, Samsung, parent company of Samsung Electronics, has figured in a year-long national scandal that led to the impeachment and imprisonment of former South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Park was found guilty of bribery-related charges involving Samsung and other companies. The saga brought out throngs of protesters calling for Park’s resignation (and, for better or worse, disparaging her for her involvement with a shamanistic cult leader, who’d allegedly colluded with her to solicit the bribes). Last April, Park was sentenced to 24 years in jail on 18 counts.
In 2017, Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s vice chairman (who has no relation to the Samsung Electronics chairman found guilty today), was sentenced to five years in prison for alleged embezzlement and bribery of Park, though he was released after a year when an appeals court reduced and suspended his sentence. This was considered an outrage and affirmation of Samsung’s impenetrable rein, with largely unpunished bribery convictions of Lee’s father in the rearview mirror. In April, South Korea’s Supreme Court found that the appeals court had undervalued the bribes at $3 million, putting them closer to $7 million, and kicked the case back to an appeals court to review with more scrutiny.
France has separately charged Samsung Electronics for its allegedly “misleading” ethical code, as well as allegedly employing child laborers and subjecting workers to inhumane conditions. In 2018, Samsung Electronics co-President Kim Ki-nam apologized for failing to “properly manage health risks” at its factories after over 100 people reportedly died of work-related illnesses including cancer. (More on Samsung’s miserable history of labor abuses here, here, and here.)
Its appalling reputation doesn’t seem to ruffle Samsung; the concern around Lee Jae-yong’s imprisonment seems to moreso revolve around upending the conglomerate’s leadership. As the Wall Street Journal notes, Samsung Electronics’ stock rose Tuesday following Lee Sang-hoon’s sentencing.
Samsung was not immediately available for comment.