Published: Thu, January 19, 2017
Industry | By Faith Ward

S Korea: Samsung chief awaits arrest warrant decision

S Korea: Samsung chief awaits arrest warrant decision

According to Reuters, a South Korean court declined today to grant an arrest warrant for Lee, who's also known as Jay Y. Lee, following requests by prosecutors earlier this week. The Supreme Prosecutors' Office made a decision to bring out charges against Samsung Group's Vice Chairman yesterday, alleging that he paid $36.55 million in bribes to several companies and nonprofits linked to one Choi Soon-sil, a power broker close to President Park. Watchers have been saying Lee's detention could have helped with the special team's investigation of President Park Geun-hye later on.

The Seoul Central District Court said there appears to be no flight risk and no need to physically detain the 48 year-old tycoon.

Following a request from the Prosecutor's Office, a court in Seoul will decide Wednesday whether to issue the arrest warrant against one of the country's most powerful men.

On Wednesday, the prosecutor's office said it had gained a tablet PC used by Ms. Choi that contained messages she traded with a Samsung official.

Samsung is among South Korea's biggest conglomerates, encompassing shipbuilding, life insurance, advertising and construction alongside its globally successful electronics arm.

Samsung's byzantine holding structure makes it possible for the founder family to remain in charge even though the conglomerate is publicly traded and they only hold minority shares.

The investigators allege that the Samsung Group signed a 22 billion won (US$18.3 million) contract with a Germany-based company owned by Choi Soon-il, a confidante of Park, and her daughter, under a consulting arrangement, to pay for the daughter's equestrian training.

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Lee, who has denied wrongdoing, is also accused of embezzlement and perjury.

Samsung denounced the special prosecutor's decision. If Samsung was to have a power struggle at the top due to Lee Jae-yong's corruption allegations, the fate of the company and its economic role in South Korea could be called into question. The elder Mr. Lee was convicted of bribery in 1996, and of tax evasion and breach of trust in 2009, but in each case, he was not arrested, and his prison terms were suspended.

Each time, his criminal record was later erased in presidential pardons, and he soon returned to Samsung's leadership. Its crown jewel, Samsung Electronics, alone accounts for 20 per cent of South Korea's total exports. Samsung has largely been controlled by one family since its existence.

Former welfare minister Moon Hyung-Pyo was formally charged Monday with abuse of power for allegedly pressuring the fund's managers to approve the deal. The special prosecutor said that Moon acted on behalf of Park.

Last month he acknowledged ordering the world's third-largest pension fund to support the merger of Samsung C&T Corp and Cheil Industries in 2015 while heading the health ministry, which oversees the NPS.

The spokesman said other large businesses will also be subject to investigations on donations to the Choi-controlled foundations in return for getting favors.

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