Sam­sung chief’s ar­rest can­celled

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Joyce Lee and Ju-min Park

A SOUTH Korean court yes­ter­day dis­missed an ar­rest war­rant against the head of Sam­sung Group, the coun­try’s largest con­glom­er­ate, amid a graft scan­dal that has led to the im­peach­ment of Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye.

But the re­prieve for Jay Y Lee, 48, may only be tem­po­rary, as the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice said it would pur­sue the case.

Lee, who has led Sam­sung since his fa­ther, Lee Kun-hee, suf­fered a heart at­tack in 2014, was still likely to face the same charges of bribery, em­bez­zle­ment and per­jury, le­gal an­a­lysts said, even if he is not de­tained.

Lee left the Seoul De­ten­tion Cen­tre yes­ter­day, car­ry­ing a white shop­ping bag and climbed into a car without talk­ing to re­porters, hav­ing been held overnight as the court de­lib­er­ated whether to grant the ar­rest war­rant.

The spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice said it would be con­tin­u­ing its probe, but had not de­cided whether to make another ar­rest war­rant re­quest, and the set­back would not change its plans to in­ves­ti­gate other con­glom­er­ates.

Spokesman Lee Kyu-chul said the pros­e­cu­tion was un­con­vinced by the Sam­sung chief’s ar­gu­ment that he was a vic­tim of co­er­cion due to pres­sure from Park.

The spokesman also said Sam­sung Group vice-chair­man Choi Gee-sung had been clas­si­fied as a sus­pect on sus­pi­cion of bribery, but did not elab­o­rate fur­ther.

Two other Sam­sung of­fi­cials, Choi’s deputy Chang Choong-ki and Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics ex­ec­u­tive Park Sangtin, were also un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The of­fice has ac­cused Lee of pay­ing multi-mil­lion dol­lar bribes to Pres­i­dent Park’s close con­fi­dant, Choi Soon-sil, the woman at the heart of the scan­dal, to win sup­port from the Na­tional Pen­sion Ser­vice for a con­tro­ver­sial 2015 merger of two Sam­sung Group af­fil­i­ates.

The merger helped ce­ment Lee’s con­trol over the smart­phones-to-bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals busi­ness em­pire.

He has de­nied any wrong­do­ing.

The judge said in a state­ment on his rul­ing that an ar­rest was not nec­es­sary – for now.

“After re­view­ing the con­tents and the process of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion so far… it is dif­fi­cult to ac­knowl­edge the ne­ces­sity and sub­stan­tial­ity of an ar­rest at the cur­rent stage,” he said.

Lee Jung-jae, a lawyer and for­mer pros­e­cu­tor, said he didn’t think the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor would push for Lee’s de­ten­tion again.

“They prob­a­bly al­ready have as much ev­i­dence as they could gather,” he said.

“They will in­dict him even­tu­ally, but without any de­ten­tion.”

Sam­sung said in an e-mailed state­ment it ap­pre­ci­ated “the fact that the mer­its of this case can now be de­ter­mined without the need for de­ten­tion”.

The group’s flag­ship, Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics, is the world’s big­gest maker of smart­phones, flat-screen tele­vi­sions and mem­ory chips.

Mak­ing its case for an ar­rest war­rant on Mon­day, the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice ac­cused Lee of pay­ing bribes to­talling 43 bil­lion won (R497 mil­lion) to or­gan­i­sa­tions linked to Choi to se­cure the 2015 merger of Sam­sung C&T and Cheil In­dus­tries.

Park, 64, was im­peached last month by par­lia­ment over the in­flu­ence-ped­dling scan­dal.

If the de­ci­sion is up­held by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, she will be­come South Korea’s first demo­crat­i­cally elected leader to be forced from of­fice early.

Both Park, who re­mains in of­fice but stripped of her pow­ers while the court de­cides her fate, and Choi have de­nied wrong­do­ing.

The spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice said on Tues­day it had ev­i­dence that Park and Choi shared prof­its gained through bribery pay­ments, but did not elab­o­rate.

This week, the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor in­dicted the chair­man of the Na­tional Pen­sion Ser­vice, the world’s third-largest pen­sion fund, on charges of abuse of power and giv­ing false tes­ti­mony in re­la­tion to the deal. – Reuters

PHOTO: AP

Lee Jae-yong, (cen­tre), a vice chair­man of Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics, ar­rives for the hear­ing at the Seoul Cen­tral Dis­trict Cour, South Korea, on Wed­nes­day. A South Korean court has be­gun re­view­ing the ar­rest of a Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics vice chair­man who faces al­le­ga­tions of bribery, em­bez­zle­ment and per­jury, while the head of Sam­sung Group, Jay Y Lee, had his ar­rest war­rant re­pealed yes­ter­day.

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