January 12, 2017 09:57
De facto Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong is being questioned by the independent counsel over bribery charges in the crony scandal surrounding President Park Geun-hye.
The independent counsel's team has asked the National Assembly committee probing the scandal to file a criminal complaint against Lee for perjury.
Lee appeared at the independent counsel's office in southern Seoul on Thursday morning and made a brief apology before entering the building.
Investigators believe that Samsung gave W20.4 billion to two dodgy foundations controlled by Park's longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil between October 2015 and January last year, and another W8 billion last autumn to Core Sports, a paper company Choi and her daughter established in Germany.
The money was allegedly a sweetener to win Park's support for the merger of Samsung C&T and affiliate Cheil Industries, which thanks to Samsung's byzantine holding structure transferred effective control of the sprawling conglomerate to Lee Jae-yong (US$1=W1,196).
Prosecutors earlier concluded that Lee had simply been strong-armed into coughing up the money. Questioned by prosecutors and the National Assembly committee, Lee consistently denied bribery.
But he met Park one-to-one three times while the racket was underway, in September 2014, July 2015, and February 2016.
The independent counsel believe that Park dropped heavy hints in those meetings to extract the money for Choi, which were later followed up by aides including An Chong-bum, who then helped ensure a smooth transfer of the Samsung leadership to Lee from his comatose father Lee Kun-hee.
Lee Kyu-chul, a spokesman for the independent counsel's team, said, "We're going to bring criminal charges against other Samsung executives involved after interrogating Lee Jae-yong."
Asked whether the Samsung heir faces arrest, the spokesman said, "All possibilities are open."
Samsung on Wednesday insisted that it was a simple case of extortion. "Lee Jae-yong will sincerely cooperate with the independent counsel's investigation," a Samsung executive said. "We hope that the misunderstanding will be cleared up."
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