SEOUL — Samsung Electronics announced Thursday that it had named Lee Jae-yong as executive chairman, officially elevating the heir and longtime de facto leader of the South Korean tech and industrial giant, less than 15 months after he was released from prison for bribery.
Mr. Lee, also known as Jay Y. Lee, had been serving a two-and-a-half-year prison term for bribing a former South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, before he was released on parole in August 2021. About a year later, President Yoon Suk Yeol pardoned Mr. Lee.
Mr. Lee has been running the conglomerate since a heart attack incapacitated his father, Lee Kun-hee, in 2014. Lee Kun-hee, who built Samsung into a global giant, died in 2020, and Lee Jae-yong is his only son.
Forbes has estimated Mr. Lee to have a net worth of $7.2 billion, which it says makes him South Korea’s second-richest man.
Samsung is one of several family-controlled conglomerates that helped South Korea transform its economy into an export powerhouse. The group’s electronics unit alone accounts for nearly one-fifth of the country’s total exports.
In a brief statement, Samsung said its board of directors had approved the appointment of Mr. Lee, which had been recommended by its chairman, Han-Jo Kim.
“The board cited the current uncertain global business environment and the pressing need for stronger accountability and business stability in approving the recommendation,” the statement said.
Samsung is run by a cadre of professional managers, but Mr. Lee’s imprisonment had caused anxiety among some who argued that his absence created uncertainty for the company at a time when it needed to make bold investments and acquisitions. Local news media also reported that with Mr. Lee locked away, Samsung had postponed some key strategic decisions.
Mr. Lee has for years been embroiled in legal problems that have shuttled him in and out of court, stoking debate in South Korea about the influence of big business on the political system, justice and the rule of law.
Mr. Lee’s father was twice convicted of bribery and other corruption charges, but never spent a day in jail. Mr. Lee has been to prison twice in five years.
And his legal troubles are not over. He faces separate criminal charges related to stock price manipulation and unfair trading. Mr. Lee has denied these charges.
Choe Sang-Hun and Daisuke Wakabayashi contributed reporting.