Leaders of South Korea's business community have called on President Moon Jae-in to release the jailed boss of Samsung Electronics Ltd, Jay Y Lee, to help bolster the country's competitive chances in the ongoing chip shortage.
The plea, made on Monday, came during a luncheon with Mr Moon and bosses representing four of the nation's most substantial business sectors.
Representatives from Samsung, Hyundai, LG and SK discussed the situation with Mr Moon.
Chey Tae-Won, the chairman for SK Group, asked the president to consider a petition sent to him from a business lobbying group requesting Lee be released. The Korea Chamber of Commerce – which is headed by Mr Chey – was among the five lobbying groups who sent the petition.
Mr Moon said he "understood" the difficulties for the companies, according to Reuters.
If the president were to release Lee, he would be back-pedaling on promises he made ahead of taking office not to pardon serious economic crimes like bribery and embezzlement.
Lee was sentenced to 30 months in prison after being convicted of bribery, embezzlement and other crimes.
Legal analysts believe Lee may be eligible for parole, as he has already served more than half of his 30 month sentence.
Under South Korean law, parole can be granted after one-third of a sentence has been served, so long as the prisoner has been on their best behavior.
Lee oversees all three of Samsung's divisions – chips, smartphones, and home appliances – which Samsung officials have said makes it difficult for the company to make investment decisions.
"Semiconductors require large-scale investment decisions, and leaders can only make such decisions in a swift manner," Kinam Kim, the vice chairman and CEO of Samsung's device business, said.
The world is currently struggling with a shortage of semiconductors. Manufacturers of the chips slashed their orders during the pandemic, assuming there would be less demand for them after sales dropped dramatically in the first quarter of 2020.
However, the second half of 2020 brought with it an economic recovery in many parts of the world that managed to get a handle on the coronavirus. The demand for chips, which are used in everything from cars to game consoles and smart phones, has outpaced the supply ever since.
Experts predict it could take more than a year before manufacturers can catch up to the demand.
Park Jea-gun, a professor at Hanyang University in Seoul, agreed that the company was likely facing difficulties without having an owner at its helm to make decisions.
"It's hard to make big business decisions if not the owner," Mr Park said.
Calls for Lee's release are far from universal.
Members of the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, an activist group aimed at holding corrupt business leaders accountable, has condemned the calls for Lee's release.
They claimed that if Lee were to be released, it would "abuse the legal system to justify corporate crimes."
According to reports from the discussions, Mr Moon seemed open to the idea of freeing Lee, but no decision has been made at this time.