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Jean Chung | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Jay Y. Lee, co-vice chairman of Samsung Electronics speaks to members of the media as he leaves the Seoul Detention Center in Uiwang, South Korea, on Feb. 5, 2018.

For chaebols then, it’s likely a case of being caught between a rock and a hard place: The companies have to deal with the fallout from the recent scandal, as well as follow through with the promises they had made in the lead up to the Olympics.

The political scandal last year meant that some chaebols were “not [in] a great mood” when it came to promoting the Olympics, said Sung-bae Roger Park, an associate professor at Hanyang University’s department of sports industry.

Even if they weren’t willing to participate in the games, chaebols were still “kind of forced” to participate in the event taking place on home soil, Park told CNBC.

An official on the Pyeongchang organizing committee told the Associated Press that corporations “showed some reluctance” when it came to providing sponsorship — although they ultimately played along.

Despite those claims, several chaebols contacted by CNBC indicated they didn’t encounter any such ambivalence when it came to sponsoring the games.

A spokeswoman at Lotte Corporation said that the company was “very pleased” to be a part of the sporting event.

“As the president of the Korea Ski Association, [Lotte] Chairman Shin Dong-bin was always interested in the Winter Olympics,” the spokeswoman said, adding that Shin’s recent prison sentence for bribery would not affect the company’s support for the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Samsung, meanwhile, did not address how the most recent charges against Lee Kun-hee affected its sponsorship effort, but said in a statement that it was “committed to sponsoring those around the world who are defying barriers.”

Even though North Korea’s participation in the games hogged the spotlight in the lead-up to the event, the suspension of Jay Y. Lee’s five-year prison term for bribery has raised questions more recently over chaebol reform in South Korea.

“The verdict reminds Koreans of the necessities for fundamental chaebol reform and thus may provide momentum for drive for the reform,” said Park Sangin, a professor focusing on corporate governance at Seoul National University.



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