The heir to the Samsung empire and four other top executives from the world’s biggest smartphone maker were indicted Tuesday on multiple charges including bribery and embezzlement, South Korean prosecutors said.
“Special prosecutors today indicted Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-Yong… for bribery, embezzlement, hiding of assets overseas… and perjury,” said Lee Kyu-Chul, spokesman for the team probing the corruption and power abuse scandal that has seen President Park Geun-Hye impeached.
Lee, 48, was arrested earlier this month and the laying of formal charges against him and his colleagues makes them almost certain to face trial, casting new uncertainty over South Korea’s biggest firm.
FRANCE 24’s Seoul correspondent Andrew Salmon said that while collusion between South Korean business and political leaders was nothing new, it was “unusual” for Lee to be in police custody.
“Among these guys, the top guys, they don’t actually go behind bars,” Salmon said.
Lee has effectively been at the helm of the conglomerate since his father suffered a heart attack in 2014.
The allegations against him include paying nearly $40 million in bribes to a confidante of President Park’s to secure policy favours. Lee, who is also accused of concealing stolen assets, has denied all charges.
The scandal centres on Choi Soon-Sil, who is accused of using her close ties with Park to force local firms to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations, which Choi allegedly used for personal gain.
Samsung was the single biggest donor to the foundations. It is also accused of separately giving millions of euros to Choi to bankroll her daughter’s equestrian training in Germany.
Court weighs impeachment
The charges against the Samsung chiefs were announced a day after special prosecutors investigating President Park were denied permission to extend their probe and question her in person.
The office of Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, acting as president since Park was impeached by parliament in December, said the premier had rejected a request by prosecutors for a 30-day extension of their investigation.
The sticking point had been over the presidential office’s refusal to allow audio or video recordings of the questioning, resulting in a breakdown in negotiations last week. Prosecutors had sought to question Park as a suspect, he said.
Park was impeached by parliament in December, and the graft scandal threatens to topple her from office.
A Constitutional Court ruling on whether to uphold the impeachment, which would result in South Korea’s first democratically elected leader being thrown out of office, is expected next month.