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A South Korean court on Monday acquitted Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong of financial crimes involving a contentious merger between Samsung affiliates in 2015 that tightened his grip over South Korea’s biggest company.

The ruling by the Seoul Central District Court could ease the legal troubles surrounding the Samsung heir less than two years after he was pardoned of a separate conviction of bribery in a corruption scandal that helped topple a previous South Korean government.

The court said the prosecution failed to sufficiently prove the merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries was unlawfully conducted with an aim to strengthen Lee’s control over Samsung Electronics.

The ruling was criticized by activists, progressive politicians and commentators, who questioned how Lee could be innocent of all charges when he had previously been convicted in the separate case of bribing a former president while seeking government support for the merger. The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, South Korea’s biggest civic group, said the court failed to display “even a minimal level of social justice” by putting Lee’s interests before those of shareholders and pensioners, whose retirement funds were possibly reduced by the deal, which was endorsed by the National Pension Service.

It described the ruling as a setback for years of efforts to reform the management culture of South Korea’s family-owned conglomerates and their cozy ties with the government. South Korean corporate leaders often receive relatively lenient punishments for corruption, business irregularities and other crimes, with judges often citing concerns over the country’s economy.

Prosecutors had sought a five-year jail term for Lee, who was accused of stock price manipulation and accounting fraud. It wasn’t immediately clear whether they would appeal. Lee denied wrongdoing in the current case, describing the 2015 merger as “normal business activity.”

Lee, 55, did not answer questions from reporters as he left the court. You Jin Kim, Lee’s lawyer, praised the ruling, saying it confirmed that the merger was legal.

Lee, a third-generation corporate heir who was officially appointed chairman of Samsung Electronics in October 2022, has led the Samsung group of companies since 2014, when his late father, former chairman Lee Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack.

Lee Jae-yong served 18 months in prison after being convicted in 2017 over separate bribery charges related to the 2015 deal. He was originally sentenced to five years in prison for offering 8.6 billion won ($6.4 million) worth of bribes to then-President Park Geun-hye and her close confidante to win government support for the 2015 merger, which was key to strengthening his control over the Samsung business empire and solidifying the father-to-son leadership succession.

Park and her confidante were also convicted in the scandal, and enraged South Koreans staged massive protests for months demanding an end to shady ties between business and politics. The demonstrations eventually led to Park’s ouster from office.

Lee was released on parole in 2021 and pardoned by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in August 2022, in moves that extended a history of leniency toward major white-collar crime in South Korea and preferential treatment for convicted tycoons.

Some shareholders had opposed the 2015 merger, saying it unfairly benefited the Lee family while hurting minority shareholders.



The United Nations’ top court on Wednesday rejected large parts of a case filed by Ukraine alleging that Russia bankrolled separatist rebels in the country’s east a decade ago and has discriminated against Crimea’s multiethnic community since its annexation of the peninsula.

The International Court of Justice ruled Moscow violated articles of two treaties — one on terrorism financing and another on eradicating racial discrimination — but it rejected far more of Kyiv’s claims under the treaties.

It rejected Ukraine’s request for Moscow to pay reparations for attacks in eastern Ukraine blamed on pro-Russia Ukrainian rebels, including the July 17, 2014, downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that killed all 298 passengers and crew.

Russia has denied any involvement in the downing of the jetliner. A Dutch domestic court convicted two Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian in November 2022 for their roles in the attack and sentenced them in their absence to life imprisonment. The Netherlands and Ukraine also have sued Russia at the European Court of Human Rights over MH17.

In another rebuke for Moscow, the world court ruled that Russia had violated one of the court’s orders by launching its full-scale invasion in Ukraine nearly two years ago.

The leader of Ukraine’s legal team, Anton Korynevych, called the ruling “a really important day because this is a judgment which says that the Russian Federation violated international law, in particular both conventions under which we made our application.”

The legally binding final ruling was the first of two expected decisions from the International Court of Justice linked to the decade-long conflict between Russia and Ukraine that exploded into all-out war almost two years ago.

At hearings last year, a lawyer for Ukraine, David Zionts, said the pro-Russia forces in eastern Ukraine “attacked civilians as part of a campaign of intimidation and terror. Russian money and weapons fueled this campaign.”



A Hong Kong court ordered China Evergrande, the world’s most heavily indebted real estate developer, to undergo liquidation following a failed effort to restructure $300 billion owed to banks and bondholders that fueled fears about China’s rising debt burden.

“It would be a situation where the court says enough is enough,” Judge Linda Chan said Monday. She said it was appropriate for the court to order Evergrande to wind up its business given a “lack of progress on the part of the company putting forward a viable restructuring proposal” as well as Evergrande’s insolvency.

China Evergrande Group is among dozens of Chinese developers that have collapsed since 2020 under official pressure to rein in surging debt the ruling Communist Party views as a threat to China’s slowing economic growth. But the crackdown on excess borrowing tipped the property industry into crisis, dragging on the economy and rattling financial systems in and outside China.

Chinese regulators have said the risks of global shockwaves from Evergrande’s failure can be contained. The court documents seen Monday showed Evergrande owes about $25.4 billion to foreign creditors. Its total assets of about $240 billion are dwarfed by its total liabilities.

“It is indisputable that the company is grossly insolvent and is unable to pay its debts,” the documents say.

About 90% of Evergrande’s business is in mainland China. Its chairman, Hui Ka Yan, who is also known as Xu Jiayin, was detained by authorities for suspected “illegal crimes” in late September, further complicating the company’s efforts to recover.

It’s unclear how the liquidation order will affect China’s financial system or Evergrande’s operations as it struggles to deliver housing that has been paid for but not yet handed over to families that put their life savings into such investments.

Evergrande’s Hong Kong-traded shares plunged nearly 21% early Monday before they were suspended from trading. But Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng index was up 0.9% and some property developers saw gains in their share prices.

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