Samsung heir named as suspect in South Korean political scandal

Samsung heir named as suspect in South Korean political scandal

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Ahn Jong-beom, second from right, disgraced South Korean President Park Geun-hye's former senior secretary for policy coordination, arrives for his trial at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea

South Korean authorities have said a Samsung heir will be questioned as a suspect in a bribery case in the massive influence-peddling scandal that led to the impeachment of the country’s president.

Lee Jae-yong, Samsung Electronics’ vice chairman, will be summoned to face questions by investigators probing whether South Korea’s largest business group bribed a jailed confidante of President Park Geun-hye to win favours, said Hong Jong-seok, a spokesman for the special prosecutor team.

The possible favours include getting the government’s backing on a controversial Samsung merger in 2015 that was opposed by minority shareholders, Mr Hong said.

Lee and members of his family were the biggest beneficiaries of the merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries, which helped him increase his control over Samsung Electronics without having to spend his money to buy its shares.

The former health minister overseeing the government-controlled national pension fund was arrested last year. The pension fund, the biggest shareholder in Samsung C&T, voted for the merger even though its advisers recommended voting against it, giving the crucial vote Samsung needed to secure shareholder approval.

Prosecutors are expected to grill Lee starting on Thursday about why Samsung Group sent corporate funds to Choi Soon-sil, the jailed confidante, including buying costly horses for her daughter, who was on the national dressage team.

Two Samsung executives, including a man known as Lee’s mentor, were questioned earlier this week.

When Lee appeared at a public hearing last month, he told legislators he was not aware of the decision to fund Choi’s daughter. He also denied that Samsung tried to win favours through the funds.

Lee, the only son of Samsung’s ailing chairman and a grandson of the company’s founder, acknowledged it was “inappropriate” but “inevitable” to send money to Choi.

Authorities have declined to say how much money Samsung spent on Choi’s companies or foundations.

According to local media and legislators, Samsung signed a contract worth more than 18 million US dollars (£14.8 million) with Choi’s company to bankroll her daughter’s equestrian training in Germany and donated another 17 million dollars (£14 million) to two non-profit foundations whose funds were allegedly for Choi’s personal use.

Mr Hong said prosecutors have examined a tablet PC Choi had owned and found details about what type of benefits Samsung provided to her, including the Samsung funds used in Germany.

Once prosecutors finish questioning Lee, they will determine whether to add more Samsung officials on a list of suspects, Mr Hong said.

President Park’s powers have been suspended since December 9 when South Korea’s opposition-controlled parliament voted to impeach her over the scandal.

She is being tried at the Constitutional Court to decide whether she will be permanently removed from power.

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