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South Korea's top court returns Samsung heir's bribery case for review

Key Points
  • South Korea's Supreme court on Thursday overturned part of an appeals court ruling in the bribery case of Samsung Group's de facto chief Jay Y. Lee.
  • The ruling cast doubt whether Lee, 51, can focus on steering the group's flagship Samsung Electronics through falling profitability and Japanese export curbs on materials crucial for the world's leading chipmaker.
  • Samsung Electronics shares declined 1.7% on Thursday after the ruling, while those of affiliates Samsung BioLogics and Samsung C&T fell 4.89% and 4.05%, respectively.
A Samsung Electronics Co. corporate flag flies outside the company's Seocho office building in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.
Jean Chung | Bloomberg | Getty Images

South Korea's Supreme court on Thursday overturned part of an appeals court ruling in the bribery case of Samsung Group's de facto chief Jay Y. Lee, who had been given a two-and-a-half-year suspended sentence for seeking favor from the country's ex-leader.

The Supreme Court said the interpretation by the Seoul High Court on what constituted bribes by Samsung to then-President Park Geun-hye was too narrow.

The case centered on whether three horses donated by Samsung Group for the training of the competitive equestrian daughter of Park's friend should be considered bribes aimed at winning the president's favor.

The Supreme Court said the appeals court erred in not recognizing the horses as bribes given by Samsung to win favors.

The ruling cast doubt whether Lee, 51, can focus on steering the group's flagship Samsung Electronics through falling profitability and Japanese export curbs on materials crucial for the world's leading chipmaker.

Lee, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, was sentenced in 2017 to five years imprisonment for bribing a friend of Park as he sought to succeed his father and secure control of Samsung Group.

He was freed after a year in detention when the appellate Seoul High Court halved his sentence and suspended it for four years. Both Lee, who denies wrongdoing, and prosecutors appealed.

Samsung Electronics shares declined 1.7% on Thursday after the ruling, while those of affiliates Samsung BioLogics and Samsung C&T fell 4.89% and 4.05%, respectively.

— CNBC contributed to this report.