Samsung chief arrested on charges of bribing government
SEOUL >> The de facto leader of Samsung, Lee Jaeyong, was arrested today on bribery charges, a dramatic turn in South Korea’s decades-old struggle to end collusive ties between the government and powerful family-controlled conglomerates.
Lee, vice chairman of Samsung, one of the world’s largest conglomerates, was taken to a jail outside Seoul, the capital, soon after a judge at the Seoul Central District Court issued an arrest warrant early today.
Lee, 48, was accused of paying $36 million in bribes to President Park Geun-hye’s secretive confidante, Choi Soon-sil, in return for political favors from Park, like government support for a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that helped Lee inherit corporate control from his incapacitated father, Chairman Lee Kun-hee. Lee Jae-yong is the first head of Samsung, a symbol of power and wealth in South Korea, to face corruption charges. Other charges against him include embezzlement, illegal transfer of property abroad and committing perjury during a parliamentary hearing. Analysts say his case is a litmus test of whether the country’s relatively youthful democracy and judicial system are ready to crack down on the white-collar crimes of family-owned conglomerates, or “chaebol,” among which Samsung is the biggest and most profitable.
His arrest is also a hardwon victory for the special prosecutor, Park Young-soo, who has been struggling to establish a bribery case against Lee and Park Geunhye.
Lee, who also goes by the name Jay Y. Lee in the West, had survived the prosecutor’s first attempt to arrest him last month, when a court in Seoul ruled that there was not enough evidence of bribery. But investigators have since collected what they called more incriminating evidence and again asked the court for an arrest warrant. “Given the newly presented criminal charges and the additional evidence collected, the legal grounds and need for arresting him are recognized,” the judge, Han Jeong-seok, said today, issuing the arrest warrant. Lee, who has yet to be convicted of any crime, was the most prominent businessman to be ensnared in the special prosecutor’s broadening investigation into a corruption scandal that led to Park Geun-hye’s impeachment by parliament Dec. 9. Park’s presidential powers remained suspended, with the Constitutional Court expected to rule in coming weeks whether she should be reinstated or formally removed from office.
Reporters questioned Lee Jae-yong, the head of Samsung, upon his arrival for a hearing at Seoul Central District Court on Thursday. The South Korean court issued an arrest warrant early today for the Samsung heir, accused of offering bribes to a close friend of the country’s president, Park Geun-hye.