Prosecutors cited a past ruling on a North Korean spy case as one reason why Samsung's billionaire heir deserved a lengthy prison term after being convicted of offering bribes to the country's then-president and one of her associates.
The prosecutors and Lee Jae-yong's lawyers sparred Thursday during a first hearing by the appeals court on the effort by Lee, Samsung's vice chairman and de facto leader, to have his five-year prison sentence overturned.
Lee was convicted in August of offering $7.9 million in bribes to Park Geun-hye and one of her associates when Park was South Korea's president in order to get state support as he strengthened his control over Samsung empire after his father fell ill. Prosecutors had asked judges to sentence him to 12 years in prison accusing him of offering $38 million in bribes but judges at the lower court said Samsung's donations to two foundations controlled by Park's friend did not constitute bribery. Both sides have appealed.
Lee, 49, the only son of South Korea's richest individual, sat silently in the courtroom except when he told judges his birthdate and home address. Lee appeared relaxed, yawning during the morning hearing as the two sides argued over whether or not notebooks written by a former aide to the ousted president should have been admitted as evidence.
Prosecutors cited the spy case in arguing that the notebooks, which contained memos of Park's comments after meeting with Lee, showed the Samsung heir was guilty. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that a memo saved in a personal computer was enough to prove there had been contact between South Koreans and a pro-North Korean group, the prosecutors said.
Lee's lawyers said the notebooks were not admissible because the memos were taken by a third person who was not present at the meeting between the former president and Lee.
"There is no subject, no verb, just a list of words," said one of Lee's lawyers on the notebooks. "It does not meet the standards to be evidence."
Whether the appeals court accepts the notebooks as evidence will likely determine the fate of Lee. If Lee's lawyers succeed in lowering sentencing to three years or less, judges can suspend sentencing and he could be released from jail.
The prosecutors also argued that Lee and four other Samsung executives who were convicted along with him should receive a harsher punishment at the appeals court because they lied during lower court hearings in order to protect Lee.
"Their disrespectful attitude toward legal orders should be reflected in the sentencing," one of the prosecutors said.
The Samsung heir's star-studded defense team is led by Lee In-jae, a partner at Bae, Kim & Lee LLC. He is a former judge whose previous positions include a senior judge at Seoul High Court and head of Seoul Central District Court.
Despite Lee's absence, Samsung Electronics is enjoying one of the best time for its business. The company reported record-high profit and sales for the April-June quarter thanks to a surge in demand and prices of memory chips.