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Former South Korean minister convicted over role in Samsung merger

A South Korean court sentenced a former health minister to two years and six months of jail time on charges of exerting undue influence in the controversial $8 billion merger of two Samsung Group affiliates, The Korea Herald reported June 8.

The Seoul Central District Court handed down the ruling to Moon Hyung-pyo, health minister from 2013 to 2015, for pressuring the National Pension Service to support the merger of Samsung C&T Corp. and Cheil Industries Inc. in 2015.

The court also sentenced Hong Wan-sun, a former official at the pension fund, to two years and six months prison time for his involvement in the merger. National Pension Service was the single largest shareholder of Samsung C&T.

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. vice chairman Lee Jae-yong, who is currently on trial, is suspected of bribing former President Park Geun-hye's close friend Choi Soon-sil to get backing from the pension fund for the merger.

The verdict does not include the bench's judgement on whether Samsung offered bribes or whether Park gave Moon a direct order to sway the vote in favor of Samsung Group, but the convictions are likely to adversely affect the ongoing trial of Park and Lee, according to the report.

The ruling reportedly is also likely to further raise questions over the legitimacy of the merger, which was considered a crucial step to ensure a smooth leadership transfer to Lee Jae-Yong, heir apparent and de facto leader of Samsung.