Skip to main content

Samsung heir offers rare apology, won’t pass company control to children

Samsung heir offers rare apology, won’t pass company control to children


An historic day

Share this story

Jay Y. Lee bowing in apology on May 6, 2020.
Photo by KIM HONG-JI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The heir-apparent to the Samsung Group, Lee Jae-yong (or Jay Y. Lee in the Western construction), has apologized for his role in a succession plot that resulted in a bribery conviction, and for executives caught sabotaging attempts to organize labor at the company. Lee, the only son of the incapacitated Chairman Lee Kun-hee and grandson of founder Lee Byung-chull, also pledged that he would not pass management control of the Korean dynasty to his children.

Until today, two things were thought to be true about Samsung’s royal family: it doesn’t apologize unless things explode, and company control is a birthright of the Lees. The break in tradition could be an historic moment for the chaebol that got its start as a small grocery store in the 1930s, before rising to become a major international force responsible for nearly 20 percent of South Korea’s GDP.

“We failed, at times, to meet society’s expectations. We even disappointed people and caused concern because we did not strictly uphold the law and ethical standards,” said Lee during the apology, according to Reuters. “I will not pass the company’s managerial rights to my children. I have thought about it for a long time, but was hesitant about making it public,” he added, according to The Korean Herald.

Lee was advised to apologize by an internal oversight panel, according to Reuters, making the apology by the 51-year-old vice chairman of Samsung Electronics seem like an attempt to secure leniency. In 2017, Lee was convicted of perjury, embezzlement, and bribery in a plot that was meant to ensure ownership of the Samsung Group passes to the younger Lee from his father. Lee was released on appeal after serving one year of his five-year sentence. That ruling was overturned in August and he’s now awaiting the court’s decision.