Seoul, 25 October 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Lee Kun Hee, the chairman of the telecommunications giant Samsung, died in a Seoul hospital on Sunday at age 78, the South Korean firm confirmed.
He was hospitalized after a heart attack six years ago and had been bedridden ever since, according to Yonhap news agency, which cited unnamed sources as saying he had been stable and could breathe without medical instruments but never fully recovered.
Lee had been South Korea’s richest man since 2009, according to Forbes magazine, which estimates his worth at 20 billion dollars.
Born in 1942 as the third son of Samsung founder Lee Byung Chul, Lee took over Samsung in 1987 after his father’s death.
With a vision to make the company into a rival of big Japanese technology firms like Sony, he turned Samsung into the global leader in production of smartphones and televisions.
Samsung brought its first mobile phone to market in 1988.
Under his watch, the electronics company developed into the world’s biggest producer of memory chips.
Lee’s reputation suffered a blow in 1996 when he received a suspended sentence for bribing former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo. He was pardoned a year later by then-president Kim Young Sam.
New bribery allegations against Samsung forced Lee to step down as company boss in 2008, but he continued to pull the strings behind the scenes at the corporation, which also included ship-building, construction and insurance businesses.
He was handed another three-year suspended sentence for tax evasion and breach of trust in 2009, but was again pardoned – this time because South Korea’s then-president Lee Myung Bak said Lee Kun Hee was vital to Pyeongchang’s bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The Samsung magnate was a member of the International Olympic Committee. As a former amateur wrestler, he remained a sports enthusiast throughout his life.
Special investigators had pointed to “structural problems” and a “lack of transparency” in its indictment against Lee and other top managers.
The allegations against him reflected wider criticism that civil groups and small investors had been levelling against Samsung and other Chaebols, as large family-owned business conglomerates are known in South Korea.
In 2010, he returned to a leadership position at Samsung as chairman of the board.
Despite being one of the most powerful businessmen in South Korea, he rarely gave interviews or made public appearances.
In the years after his heart attack, South Korean media frequently speculated that he might have died.
He leaves behind his wife, two daughters and a son. His youngest daughter, Lee Yoon Hyung, died in 2005.