Everyone’s had a boss who sent a tone-deaf email but imprisoned Samsung heir apparent Lee Jae-yong has one-upped them all. Sending a message on Samsung’s intranet, Lee apparently apologized for landing himself in jail once again and urged them to “maintain their work” in his absence, Yonhap reports.
“I feel truly sorry for giving you all this big burden,” Lee wrote. “I will work on self-discipline and self-reflection in a humble way.” (As opposed to a not-humble way?)
The apology wasn’t even Lee’s first missive since returning to prison on Jan. 18, 2021. That came on Thursday, when Lee wrote, “Samsung should move forward regardless of my situation. We need to keep our promises made to people.” Lee also urged Samsung employees to stay united and work toward building a new Samsung. A new Samsung they wouldn’t have to work hard to build if he and his cronies didn’t royally screw the pooch to begin with.
To back it up a bit, this is not the first time Lee has been in prison. In 2017, Lee was involved in an absolutely incredible bribery scandal involving then South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her Rasputin-y confidante Choi Soon-sil. The bribery was later revealed to be an attempt at securing his succession from his father, Lee Kun-hee, who suffered a heart attack in 2014 and died October 2020. Samsung is a chaebol, a family-run conglomerate where the founding family is sort of like corporate royalty, often with outsized influence in politics. So while the elder Lee was out of the picture from 2014 until his death, his son was treated as the “Crown Prince of Samsung.” Now that his father has died, Lee is the de facto leader of the entire company. (Albeit from jail.)
Initially, Lee was sentenced to five years in prison. At the time it was a historic decision as chaebol leaders like Lee rarely got punished for white-collar crimes. However, he got to walk free in February 2018 after a successful appeal that commuted his sentence and suspended it for three years. On Jan. 18, Lee lost his retrial and was sentenced to 2.5 years by the Seoul High Court. Surprisingly, Lee decided not to appeal this time and due to time already served, will be freed in July 2022—barring any potential pardons or parole.
So yes, Lee absolutely cocked it up for Samsung in one of the most egregious cases of corruption in South Korea’s history. The irony of him asking his employees to continue working hard while he humbly reflects on his poor life choices, especially considering the year the world has just had, is navel-gazing at its finest. And while it’s nice that he’s “sorry for his shortcomings,” Samsung still has a lot to answer for given the company was found guilty of union-busting in yet another massive labor scandal involving two dozen company officials.
In the wake of these scandals, Samsung established an internal compliance committee after a judge demanded the company do so to make sure its leaders stopped being corrupt assholes who broke laws, flouted regulations, and laughed in the face of ethics. So far, the verdict on the effectiveness of the committee seems to be mixed. In Lee’s retrial, the court noted that establishing the committee was “not effective enough to warrant leniency” in Lee’s sentencing.
Honestly, the whole saga is worthy of its own K-drama but perhaps for the rest of his sentence, Lee could spare his employees his prison ramblings.