The de facto head of South Korea's top conglomerate, Samsung Group, was dragged again into a court Thursday to review his arrest warrant on charges of bribery, embezzlement, and perjury over his alleged money-for-favor exchange with President Park Geun-hye.
The hearing began after Samsung Electronics vice chairman Jay Y. Lee and Samsung Electronics President Park Sang-jin in charge of external relations were escorted together into a Seoul court, a month after it refused to issue a warrant requested by special prosecutors.
After being questioned, the only son of Samsung's bedridden patriarch Lee Kun-hee should wait at a detention center for the result of debate over the legality of his arrest.
Lee is accused of providing bribes in an attempt to facilitate the succession of Samsung's leadership. Prosecutors regard his arrest as instrumental in bringing criminal charges against Park who was suspended after being impeached in parliament.
Samsung has called for leniency, citing the economic impact of his imprisonment. According to CEO Score, a research body, Samsung was South Korea's biggest conglomerate with its total assets estimated at 350 trillion won (299 billion US dollars).
Top officials of the family-run conglomerates or "chaebol" have made regular court appearances on various charges. Some have received heavy jail terms, only for them to be pardoned or released on early parole.
The corruption scandal fanned public sentiment against corporate donations, which have long been a controversial issue in South Korea due to concern about collusive ties between businessmen and politicians. In a bid to refresh its image, Samsung withdrew from the Federation of Korean Industries, an influential business lobby group.
Lee is accused of donating some 43 billion won to Park's crony Choi Soon-sil, who is on trial for meddling in state affairs and pocketing corporate money.
Samsung is suspected of bankrolling the equestrian training of Choi's 21-year-old daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, who has been held in Denmark, in return for the state-run pension fund's backing of a merger deal between Samsung subsidiaries in 2015.
Prosecutors contend that with Park's help, Samsung received preferential treatment from the Fair Trade Commission, an anti-trust watchdog.
In seeking Lee's arrest for the second time, they claimed to have secured more evidence -- sending cash abroad illegally and hiding criminal proceeds in buying equestrian horses for Choi's daughter with a false contract. If Lee lands in jail, other Samsung executives are expected to follow suit.
Lim Chang-won = firstname.lastname@example.org