Seoul: The billionaire heir to Samsung Electronics Co., South Korea’s most successful and best known conglomerate, made his second attempt on Thursday to block efforts by prosecutors to arrest him on bribery and other charges in connection with a corruption scandal that has engulfed the country’s president.
A court hearing on whether to issue an arrest warrant for Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman at Samsung, dragged on for more than seven hours behind closed doors at Seoul Central District Court, highlighting how much prosecutors and the Samsung heir have at stake.
Prosecutors, who have less than two weeks to investigate the corruption scandal unless the National Assembly extends their deadline, are making a second and possibly last attempt to arrest Lee, 48. Lee, groomed since his youth to succeed his father in leading the electronics giant with $177 billion in revenue a year, became Samsung’s de facto leader after his father fell ill in 2014.
A decision on whether to issue the arrest warrant will likely be announced early Friday morning. The court’s rejection of the prosecutors’ first request to arrest Lee in January was announced more than 10 hours after the hearing ended.
Prosecutors have accused Lee of giving bribes worth $36 million to President Park Geun-hye and her long-time friend in order to win government favours for a company leadership transition.
They also are investigating Lee on allegations of embezzlement of Samsung funds, hiding assets overseas and lying under oath during a parliamentary hearing. Samsung has denied that it offered bribes or sought any wrongful favours from the president.
If the court approves the warrant, prosecutors will be able to take him into custody for up to 21 days before formally pressing charges. An approval would also help bring bribery charges against President Park.
Park, whose powers were suspended in December by parliament, is awaiting a decision by the Constitutional Court on whether she will be permanently removed from the presidency. If the court dismisses the arrest warrant, it will be another blow to prosecutors and the investigation of the scandal could lose momentum.
“If he is arrested, it would be a huge event that could end a deep-seated evil in South Korean society: the collusion between the government and businesses. That would be an enormous positive for the South Korean economy,” said Jun Sung-in, a professor of economics at Hongik University in Seoul.