While being questioned for allegedly bribing South Korea’s president, Samsung Group’s Jay Y Lee is locked up at a prison notorious for housing convicted billionaires, a serial killer and the hangman’s noose. That doesn’t mean he’s given up being the boss.
Lee doesn’t have a phone or computer and technically is confined to his cell almost all day, yet he’s allowed to meet with lawyers in a separate room for as long as he’d like. He could use the attorneys to communicate with lieutenants at the conglomerate and stay involved in the decision-making, said Kwon Young-june, a professor who researches corporate governance at Seoul’s Kyung Hee University.
“It’s a backward culture found in a country like South Korea,” Kwon said. “Executives can retain their posts even after being jailed because they also own the companies they run.”
Precedent is on Lee’s side. Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn and SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won continued to influence their businesses even after being convicted of crimes and imprisoned. Not only did they keep their titles while behind bars, they are still actively involved with the company.
The case against Lee, who hasn’t been formally indicted, hasn’t advanced as far as those, with both Samsung and Lee denying he did anything wrong. Yet the conditions of his confinement show how serious the consequences of the investigation have been so far.