Samsung leader named a suspect in South Korea political probe

Wed Jan 11, 2017 4:58am EST
 
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By Se Young Lee and Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean special prosecutor's office will question Samsung Group [SAGR.UL] leader Jay Y. Lee as a suspect in a widening influence-peddling scandal that may force President Park Geun-hye from office.

Prosecutors have been looking into whether Samsung payments of about 30 billion won ($25 million) for a business and foundations backed by Park's friend, Choi Soon-sil, were connected to a 2015 decision by the national pension fund to back a controversial merger of two group affiliates.

Park could become South Korea's first democratically elected leader to leave office early after parliament voted in December to impeach her over the corruption scandal, which has triggered big weekly rallies calling for her to step down. The impeachment must be upheld or overturned by the Constitutional Court.

A spokesman for prosecutors, Lee Kyu-chul, told a briefing the Samsung leader had been summoned for questioning at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday (7 p.m. ET on Wednesday) over suspicions including bribery.

He declined to comment on whether Jay Y. Lee or other Samsung executives will be indicted but would not rule out the possibility of the prosecution seeking an arrest warrant against Lee. A Samsung Group spokeswoman declined to comment.

Proving quid-pro-quo dealings between the Choi-linked organizations and Samsung are critical to prosecution efforts to bolster its case against President Park and show that she, or a surrogate such as Choi, collected bribes in exchange for favors, analysts said.

For Samsung and its founding Lee family, an indictment or conviction of Jay Y. Lee would deal a blow to efforts to secure a stable transfer of control to heirs from ailing patriarch Lee Kun-hee.

The conglomerate has undergone major restructuring since 2014 to streamline its ownership structure and consolidate power under Jay Y. Lee and his two sisters.   Continued...

 
Samsung Electronics vice chairman Jay Y. Lee arrives to attend a hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji