Lee Kun-Hee, the ailing Samsung Electronics chairman who transformed the small television maker into a global giant of consumer electronics is dead at the age of 78.
Samsung announced the death but did not specify the cause. Mr. Lee had been incapacitated since a heart attack in 2014. The company said in a statement;
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Kun-hee Lee, Chairman of Samsung Electronics.
“Chairman Lee passed away on October 25 with his family, including Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee, by his side.
“Chairman Lee was a true visionary who transformed Samsung into the world-leading innovator and industrial powerhouse from a local business. His legacy will be everlasting.”
When Lee inherited the chairmanship of the Samsung group in 1987 founded by his father as a fish and fruit exporter, it was already the country’s largest conglomerate, with operations ranging from consumer electronics to construction.
Under Lee’s leadership, Samsung rose to become the world’s largest producer of smartphones and memory chips, and the firm’s overall turnover today is equivalent to a fifth of South Korea’s GDP.
Samsung’s meteoric rise helped make Lee South Korea’s richest and most powerful industrialist.
His reign also showcased the sometimes dubious ways in which South Korea’s family business empires, known as chaebol, safeguard their influence. South Korea’s corporate dynasties are such a major source of economic vitality that some South Koreans wonder whether the chaebol are holding their country hostage.
In 1996, Mr. Lee was convicted of bribing the country’s president, then pardoned. More than a decade later, he was found guilty of tax evasion but given another reprieve, this time so he could resume lobbying to bring the Winter Olympics to the mountain town of Pyeongchang in 2018.
Soon after the Pyeongchang Games, Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s president from 2008 to 2013, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for accepting $5.4 million in bribes from Samsung in exchange for pardoning Mr. Lee.