South Korea court mulls fresh bid to arrest Samsung heir
SEOUL: The scion of South Korean giant Samsung appeared in court Thursday as judges deliberate a second attempt by prosecutors to arrest him over a corruption scandal embroiling impeached President Park Geun-Hye.
Lee Jae-Yong, Samsung Electronics vice chairman, is accused of paying nearly $40 million in bribes to Park’s secret confidante to secure policy favours.
The 48-year-old appeared grim-faced as he entered the Seoul courthouse Thursday without answering questions from hordes of reporters as protestors chanted “Arrest him!” nearby, according to television footage.
He avoided being arrested during hearings last month, after the court ruled there was insufficient evidence.
But prosecutors on Tuesday made a second bid for his arrest, saying they have collected more evidence in recent weeks.
Lee, the son of Samsung group chairman Lee Kun-Hee, would face immediate incarceration at a detention centre for those awaiting trial, if the court opts to issue the arrest warrant.
The scandal centres on Choi Soon-Sil, who is accused of using her close ties with Park to force local firms to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations which Choi allegedly used for personal gain.
Samsung was the single biggest donor to the foundations. It is also accused of separately giving millions of euros to Choi to bankroll her daughter’s equestrian training in Germany.
The court is also deliberating an arrest warrant for another Samsung executive, who is also the head of Korea Equestrian Federation, over bribery charges.
Samsung said in a statement Wednesday it had “not paid bribes nor made improper requests to the president seeking favours”.
Lee has effectively taken the helm of Samsung — South Korea’s biggest business group — since his father suffered a heart attack in 2014.
The group’s flagship unit, Samsung Electronics, is the world’s largest maker of smartphones.
Prosecutors are probing whether Samsung had paid Choi to secure state approval for the controversial merger of two Samsung units seen as a key step towards ensuring a smooth power transfer to Lee.
The merger in 2015 of Samsung and Cheil Industries was opposed by many investors who said it wilfully undervalued the former unit’s shares.
But the deal went through after Seoul’s state pension fund — a major Samsung shareholder — approved it.