SOUTH Korean authorities have revealed that a Samsung heir will be questioned as a suspect in a bribery case in the massive influence-peddling scandal that led to the impeachment of the country’s president, Park Geun-hye.
Lee Jae-yong, the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, will be summoned to face questions by investigators probing whether South Korea’s largest business group bribed a jailed confidante of President Park Geun-hye in order to win favours, according to Hong Jong-seok, a spokesman for the special prosecutor team.
The possible favours include getting the government’s backing on a controversial Samsung merger in 2015, which had been opposed by the company’s minority shareholders, Hong said.
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Lee, alongside other members of his family, were the biggest beneficiaries of the merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries. The move to combine the companies also helped Lee to increase his control over Samsung Electronics without forcing him to spend money to buy its shares.
The former health minister overseeing the government-controlled national pension fund was arrested last year. The pension fund, the biggest shareholder in Samsung C&T, voted for the merger even though its advisers recommended voting against it, giving the crucial vote Samsung needed to secure shareholder approval.
Prosecutors are expected to begin grilling Lee today, and will demand answers about why Samsung Group sent corporate funds to Choi Soon-sil, the jailed confidante.
The Samsung Group also used these funds to buy costly horses for Choi’s daughter, who was on the national dressage team.
Two Samsung executives, including a man known as Lee’s mentor, have been questioned this week already.
When Lee appeared at a public hearing last month, he told legislators he was not aware of the decision to fund Choi’s daughter. He also dismissed suggestions that Samsung tried to win favours through the funds.
Lee – who is the only son of Samsung’s ailing chairman and a grandson of the company’s founder – acknowledged during that hearing that it was “inappropriate” but “inevitable” to send money to Choi.
Authorities have declined to say how much money Samsung spent on Choi’s companies or foundations.
According to local media and legislators, Samsung signed a contract worth more than £14.8 million with Choi’s company to bankroll her daughter’s equestrian training in Germany and donated another £14m to two non-profit foundations whose funds were allegedly for Choi’s personal use.
Hong confirmed that prosecutors have examined a tablet PC which Choi had owned and found details about what type of benefits Samsung provided to her, including the Samsung funds that were used in Germany.
Once prosecutors finish questioning Lee, they will determine whether to add more Samsung officials on a list of suspects, Hong said.
President Park’s powers have been suspended since December 9, when South Korea’s opposition-controlled parliament voted to impeach her over the scandal.
She is being tried at the Constitutional Court to decide whether she will be permanently removed from power.