Lee twice apologized for crimes like bribing a president and turning Samsung into a global electronics giant.
Lee Kun-hee, the ailing chairman of Samsung Electronics who transformed the small television maker into a global consumer electronics giant, has died.
In a statement, Samsung said Lee, who was 78 years old, died by his side on Sunday with his family members, including his son and de facto company boss Lee Jae-yong.
Lee Kun-Hee has been hospitalized after a heart attack since May 2014, and the younger Lee has run Samsung, the largest company in South Korea.
“All of us at Samsung will keep his memories and are grateful for the journey we have shared with him,” said the Samsung statement.
“Chairman Lee was a true visionary who turned Samsung from a local company to the world’s leading innovator and industrial powerhouse,” he said, adding, “His legacy will last forever.”
During Lee’s lifetime, Samsung Electronics went from being a second-rate TV manufacturer in sales to the world’s largest technology company. The Japanese brands Sony, Sharp Corp and Panasonic Corp were chips, televisions and displays. End Nokia Oyj’s supremacy and beat Apple Inc in smartphones.
On the way, Lee was convicted and pardoned twice for crimes, including bribing a president.
Samsung has helped South Korea’s economy be the fourth largest in Asia.
Businesses include shipbuilding, life insurance, construction, hotels, amusement park operations, and more. Samsung Electronics alone accounts for 20 percent of the market capital in South Korea’s main stock exchange market.
Lee leaves an immense wealth behind. Forbes estimates its net worth at $ 16 billion as of January 2017.
South Koreans are both proud of Samsung’s global success and are concerned that the company and the Lee family are above the law and influence almost every area of society.
In 1996, Lee was sentenced to two years suspended sentence for contributing to former President Roh Tae-woo. He was later pardoned and more than a decade later, in 2008, convicted of illicit stock trading, tax evasion, and bribery in order to pass on his assets and corporate control to his three children.
He received a presidential pardon in 2009 and returned to Samsung management in 2010.
Samsung was also implicated in the 2016-17 corruption scandal that resulted in the impeachment and imprisonment of then-President Park Geun-hye.
The executives, including the younger Lee, have been investigated by prosecutors who believed that Samsung Park executives bribed to secure government support for a smooth transition of leadership from father to son.