SEOUL (Reuters) - Samsung Group heir Jay Y. Lee denied bribery charges involving ousted South Korean president Park Geun-hye and said he had no knowledge of any pressure from her to pay bribes, as he wrapped up two days of testimony in his corruption trial on Thursday.
Testifying for the first time since he was arrested in February, Lee said he has not wielded extensive power in running the sprawling conglomerate. His role has been largely limited to being vice-chairman of the group’s flagship Samsung Electronics Co (005930.KS), the 49-year-old heir to one of Asia’s biggest conglomerates testified.
“90-95 percent of my work relates to Samsung Electronics and related affiliates. And for other matters, I’ve been assisted by the corporate strategy office,” Lee said, referring to the group’s now disbanded power center, headed by his former top lieutenant, Choi Gee-sung.
“While people outside Samsung think I‘m higher in the hierarchy, I’ve never even taken a host seat at any meeting or luncheon (when Choi was around),” Lee told the court.
Choi, Lee’s mentor and a former Samsung Electronics vice chairman, said in separate testimony he took greater responsibility than Lee as the head of corporate strategy office, which was harshly criticized for its role in the graft scandal.
“As the head of the corporate strategy office, it was my responsibility to make a final decision,” Choi told the court.
“While people outside of Samsung think Lee is the leader as he made public appearances to represent Samsung, he’s been doing it because chairman Lee Kun-hee is hospitalized.”
Prosecutors have focused on meetings between Lee and Park, when they say the two colluded to gain a state-backed pension fund’s support for a merger of Samsung affiliates. One of the allegations is that Samsung gave the daughter of a close Park confidante a 1 million euros ($1.18 million) horse and financial support at the former president’s request.
Choi in his testimony said it was his office that decided to back the daughter’s equestrian career without Lee’s knowledge.
Lee said Choi gave him some coaching ahead of his meeting with Park in 2015 and also advised him to say at a parliament hearing that Samsung would disband the powerful corporate strategy office.
Choi suggested in his testimony that he thought Lee might have been intimidated by Park when she rebuked him by saying Samsung had not done enough to sponsor equestrian sports as he had pledged.
“Having led a sheltered life, he’s never seen anyone being mad,” Choi said, adding he judged Lee “was not yet at a level to hold a dialogue on economic or industry issues with the president.”
Lee has been de facto head of the conglomerate since 2014, when his father, Samsung’s second-generation leader, was hospitalized for a heart attack.
The court plans to wrap up Lee’s trial by August 27, when Lee’s detention period ends. Park, who like Lee remains in detention on charges of corruption and abuse of power, has denied wrongdoing in a separate trial. Lee last month refused to testify at Park’s trial, as his lawyers advised him it could put him in jeopardy at his own.
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Writing by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Bill Tarrant