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Samsung heir awaits court decision on possible arrest

Samsung Group’s heir-apparent Lee Jae-Yong (C) arrives at the Seoul Central District Court for a hearing on his arrest warrant on January 18, 2017 © AFP / JUNG Yeon-Je

Seoul, Korea, Republic of, Jan 18 – The heir apparent to the Samsung business empire appeared at a South Korean court on Wednesday as a judge began deliberating whether to formally arrest him over his alleged role in a snowballing corruption scandal engulfing President Park Geun-Hye.

Lee Jae-Yong, 48, was tight-lipped as he arrived at the Seoul Central District Court and walked briskly past a mob of reporters into the building, television footage showed.

“He will be in the courtroom for about two to three hours,” court spokesman Shin Jae-Hwan said.

Shin said the judge was unlikely to reach a decision until late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.

Prosecutors said Monday they would seek an arrest warrant for Lee on suspicion of bribery, embezzlement and perjury in connection with the scandal, which has already seen President Park impeached.

It centres on Park’s secret confidante, Choi Soon-Sil, who is accused of using her ties with the president to coerce top local firms to “donate” nearly $70 million to dubious non-profit foundations which she used for her personal benefit.

Samsung is the single biggest contributor to the foundations and separately paid Choi millions of euros, allegedly to bankroll her daughter’s equestrian training in Germany.

In total, Samsung is allegedly implicated in payments of 43 billion won ($36.4 million).

Lee became the de facto leader of Samsung, South Korea’s largest conglomerate, after his father suffered a heart attack in 2014.

If the court agrees with the prosecutors’ request he will be the first South Korean senior executive to be arrested over the scandal.

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South Korea corruption scandal © AFP / AFP

He was questioned for 22 hours straight last week and has denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors in particular are probing whether Samsung’s payments were aimed at securing government approval for a controversial merger of two of its units in 2015.

The combination of Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T was seen as a key step towards ensuring a smooth third-generation power transfer to Lee.

It was opposed by many investors who said it wilfully undervalued Samsung C&T’s shares. But it was backed by the National Pension Service, a major Samsung shareholder.

Park, accused of colluding with Choi to extract money from the firms and letting the friend meddle in a wide range of state affairs, was impeached by parliament last month.

Both Park and Choi, who is currently on trial for coercion and abuse of power, have denied any wrongdoings as the Constitutional Court is reviewing the validity of the impeachment.

If the court upholds the impeachment, a presidential vote will be held in 60 days, with Park immediately losing executive privilege that protects her from criminal indictment.

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