On Tuesday, Samsung conglomerate CEO Jay Y. Lee admitted in court to illegally using a controlled substance, as the executive's legal troubles continued despite his release on parole in August following a bribery conviction.

Lee appeared in Seoul Central District Court, where he stated in a brief first hearing that he received propofol, a sedative used in anesthesia, 41 times between 2015 and 2020.

His release in August heightened expectations that major decisions would be made at Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and its affiliates, including the location of a $17 billion chip factory planned in the United States.

Prosecutors, who are seeking a fine of 70 million won ($58,327) and a fee of 17 million won, claim Lee was given propofol under the guise of skin treatment or for reasons unrelated to a legitimate treatment.

"This started as a treatment matter, but I am deeply sorry," Lee said. "I will... make certain that this does not happen again," Lee said to the small courtroom of about 15 people, adding that he had not used the drug since his release.

Lee's lawyer told the court that Lee had received medical treatment for psychological reasons following his father's hospitalization, and then as a result of the graft scandal and trial that led to his January conviction.

The court's decision is scheduled for October 26.

Under South Korean law, the recipient of a controlled substance deemed to have been administered illegally, as well as those who administered the drug, are both prosecutable.

Staff at the clinic where Lee was given the sedative, who are being tried separately, have denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors were first made aware of the situation in 2020, but an independent panel reviewing prosecution probes advised them to discontinue their investigation in March 2021. They sought a fine until June when another police report of sedative use prompted the court to order a hearing.

Because propofol is less likely to be abused than many other controlled substances, many similar cases of illegal use have resulted in fines rather than prison sentences.

Lee was convicted of bribery and embezzlement in January and sentenced to 30 months in prison, including a year served prior to his sentencing. He has kept a low profile since his release in August, with the presidential office urging public understanding and expressing hope that he will assist the country in producing "semiconductors and vaccines."

Following his release, Samsung announced a 240 trillion won investment over the next three years in fields such as chips and biopharmaceuticals.

Lee is on trial at the same time for stock-price manipulation and accounting fraud in connection with the $8 billion mergers of two Samsung companies in 2015.


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