Friday 23 June 2017

Prosecutors launch second bid to arrest Samsung boss Lee

Employees walk past logos of Samsung Group at its headquarters in Seoul (Newsis/AP)
Employees walk past logos of Samsung Group at its headquarters in Seoul (Newsis/AP)

Jungah Lee

South Korean prosecutors are again seeking to arrest Samsung Group's Jay Y Lee, citing new allegations of bribery and dealing another blow to a business empire mired in a nationwide corruption scandal.

Investigators want Mr Lee taken into custody after a first attempt in January was rejected by a court due to a lack of evidence, said Hong Jung-seok, a spokesman for the special prosecutor's team overseeing the probe.

Prosecutors will today outline specific reasons for going after the heir apparent at Samsung a second time, with a court hearing on the warrant set for tomorrow. Samsung declined to comment.

Korea's biggest corporation and billionaire Mr Lee lie at the heart of an investigation into influence-peddling that's already led to the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

The probe into whether Samsung paid for political favours could complicate succession plans at the electronics-to-finance conglomerate that is also the economy's biggest driver.

"It looks like the special prosecutor is pretty confident about the new evidence it must have found," said Kang Shin-up, an attorney at the Hana law firm. "But without questioning president Park, I still doubt if the court can accept the arrest warrant this time."

Special prosecutors have been denied access to the Blue House - South Korea's traditional seat of power - to question Ms Park.

Mr Lee, who is in line to succeed his ailing father, returned home in the early hours of yesterday after 15 hours of questioning. He left the special prosecutor's office at about 1am without answering questions from reporters.

"In addition to bribery, embezzlement and perjury, more charges will likely be added," Mr Hong said yesterday.

The 48-year-old vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co is accused of participating in payments the firm made to a close friend of Ms Park, allegedly in exchange for government support of a 2015 merger of affiliates that cemented his control of the group.

Mr Lee has denied wrongdoing and said before his marathon interrogation that he would speak "earnestly" to prosecutors.

Samsung Group, which oversees nearly 60 affiliate companies, has denied allegations it provided financial aid to Ms Park's confidante, Choi Soon-sil, in return for political favours.

The prolonged investigation into the scandal has already had an impact, with some major management plans being delayed.

Samsung Electronics shares fell 1pc in Seoul yesterday before the warrant request was announced. The stock has remained resilient amid the controversy and is up about 4pc this year.

A total of five Samsung executives have been investigated in relation to the scandal. (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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