Lee Kun-Hee is eponymous with the name Samsung in South Korea. The chairman of one of the world’s biggest conglomerates died on Sunday, at the age of 78 — six years after a heart attack hospitalized him.
“All of us at Samsung will cherish his memory and are grateful for the journey we shared with him. Our deepest sympathies are with his family, relatives and those nearest. His legacy will be everlasting,” the company said in a statement.
Lee is credited with transforming Samsung into a global brand and the world’s largest maker of smartphones, televisions and memory chips.
His death comes at a time when the sprawling conglomerate is under immense scrutiny.
Lee Kun-Hee’s son and the de facto leader of the Samsung Group, Jay Y. Lee, has been embroiled in legal troubles since 2016.
Lee Kun-Hee’s son, Jay Y. Lee, has been embroiled in legal troubles since 2017
Lee was sentenced to five years of imprisonment in 2017 after being found guilty of bribery, embezzlement and other charges.
The bribery charges were related to Lee allegedly giving horses to the daughter of a confidante of former President Park Geun-hye, to win government support for the controversial merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015.
He was released about a year later after winning an appeal — but in 2019, South Korea’s highest court ordered a retrial.
Lee made a rare apology in May 2020 over the scandal, pledging to ensure “there will be no more controversy over the succession.”
Lee apologized in 2020
However, the situation took a turn for the worse for him in September after prosecutors charged him over the merger of the two business units that helped Lee take greater control of the group’s flagship company, Samsung Electronics.
The charges included the practice of unfair transaction and manipulation of market prices under the Capital Markets Act, breach of trust during the course of business and false disclosure and accounting fraud under the External Audit Act.
Lee Kun-Hee’s net worth and stakes in several Samsung companies are expected to spur the interest of investors after his death.
A potential restructuring of the group could be on the horizon, as Lee owns 20.76% of the insurance company, Samsung Life, which is the biggest shareholder of the Samsung Group’s most important company, Samsung Electronics.
am/sms (AP, Reuters)