Corruption & Scandals Editor's Picks

CJ chief Lee Jay-hyun appeals to top court again against corporate crime conviction

Lee Tae-hoon
Written by Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Jay-hyun,the chairman of food and entertainment conglomerate CJ Group, filed an appeal to the nation’s top court for the second time on Tuesday to try to avoid the 30-month jail term he received last week.

Lee, who has been convicted of embezzlement, breach of trust and tax evasion, brought the case back to the Supreme Court, arguing that he is innocent regarding the charges on breach of trust.

The 55-year-old tycoon’s legal representatives said Lee is not guilty as it is impossible to calculate the damages incurred by the alleged breach of trust.

Legal sources say, however, it is unlikely that Lee’s argument will be accepted by the top court as the court has already made a decision on the issue once.
Last week, the Seoul High Court handed down the jail term in a retrial held three months after the top court sent the case back to the court for reconsideration.

The Supreme Court said he should not be judged with the aggravated charges as the amount of losses caused by Lee’s supposed breach of trust cannot be calculated specifically.

The appellate court also ordered the chairman to pay 25.2 billion won (US$21.31 million) in fines, upholding a lower court’s decision.

Lee was indicted in 2013 on suspicions of misappropriating more than 160 billion won in company assets to offshore slush funds and dodging taxes in the process.

The ruling was unusual in a country where judges are known for being lenient on powerful tycoons. The sentence was seen as an effort by the judiciary to break away from the long practice of giving light punishment to owners of family-run conglomerates, or chaebol, citing their importance to the national economy.

The tycoon, however, was not immediately put behind bars as the court had earlier accepted his request to suspend his imprisonment, citing health concerns. The suspension is to expire on March 21.

Lee, who has undergone a kidney transplant, claims that he suffers from multiple illnesses such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and kidney disease.

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is an inherited neurological disease characterized by the slow, progressive degeneration of the muscles in the feet, lower legs and hands.

“Imprisonment will directly have a fatal impact on (Lee’s) life,” a CJ Group official said. “The appeal was made in desperation as a person standing at the crossroads of life and death, not as a business tycoon.”

About the author

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon is publisher at The Korea Observer. He previously worked for the Korea Times and Arirang TV. You can reach him at

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