Seoul court considers arrest of Samsung de facto head on bribery charges

19 January 2017, 10:55 AM
Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jae-yong arrives at court (Getty Image)
Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jae-yong arrives at court (Getty Image)

A South Korean court is considering whether to approve the arrest of Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jae-yong, one of the country’s wealthiest business leaders, on charges of bribery and other offenses.

Lee, the only son of Samsung’s chairman, did not speak to a crowd of reporters when he arrived and left the Seoul Central District Court on Thursday. After a four-hour hearing he was taken to a detention center near Seoul to await the court’s decision.

If Lee’s arrest is approved, prosecutors can detain him for up to 21 days before formally charging him, court spokesman Shin Jae-hwan said. He said the judge will announce a decision on the arrest warrant early tomorrow morning, though the exact timing was unclear.

Samsung is South Korea’s biggest family-controlled conglomerate, or chaebol, with businesses encompassing consumer electronics, shipbuilding and life insurance. 

Samsung Electronics, the group’s crown jewel, is the world’s biggest maker of smartphones and computer memory chips. Samsung Electronics and its affiliated companies account for about a third of the market value in South Korea’s main stock market.  The company had no comment on the hearing on Thursday.

Samsung Electronics had a challenging year even before getting drawn into an influence-peddling scandal that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. In 2016, Samsung Electronics had several product recalls, including the discontinuation of Galaxy Note 7 smartphones that tended to overheat or catch fire.

Prosecutors requested Lee’s arrest for allegedly bribing Park and a confidante of hers, Choi Soon-sil, who is on trial for meddling in state affairs.

Lee, 48, faces allegations of giving bribes worth 43 billion won (USD 36 million) to Choi and the president in hopes of winning government backing for a contentious Samsung merger in 2015.

Prosecutors also suspect Lee of embezzling Samsung corporate funds and of lying under oath during a parliamentary hearing last month.

Lee has been serving as the de facto head of Samsung since his father suffered a heart attack in 2014.  Educated in South Korea, Japan and the United States, he is the crown prince of the country’s richest family, one South Koreans often liken to royalty.

Before the scandal Lee had kept a low profile compared to some other third-generation members of the founding families of chaebol. In one of the most notorious cases, an heiress of the Korean Air founders’ family threw a tantrum over nuts served to her on one of the carrier’s flights, forcing its return to an airport. 

First Published: Thursday, January 19, 2017 10:51 AM

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