Prosecutors in South Korea have requested an arrest warrant for the de facto head of the nation’s biggest conglomerate, Samsung, on charges of bribery and embezzlement in connection with a swirling scandal that led to the president’s impeachment.
Investigators say Jay Y. Lee, the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics and the scion of the one of the largest companies in the world, helped improperly direct company money to the confidant of President Park Geun-hye in order to curry favor with the government.
That confidant is now at the center of a criminal investigation and ongoing political scandal, and the president is awaiting a trial by a constitutional court on whether a resounding impeachment vote in parliament will result in her official removal.
Prosecutors allege that Lee directed funds to Park’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, and in return won support from the administration for a controversial merger between two company affiliates.
On Thursday, Lee appeared at the prosecutor’s office for questioning which lasted until Friday morning. Before the interrogation began, he said to a throng of cameras, “I am deeply sorry, and I apologize to the Korean people for failing to put our best face forward due to this incident.”
In a statement, however, the company denied the accusations:
“It is hard to understand the special prosecutors’ decision. Samsung has never given support or wanted reward in turn. In particular, Samsung cannot accept the special prosecutors’ claims that there was an illegal solicitation regarding the merger or the management succession. We believe the court will make a good judgment.”
Already, lawmakers who supported the ouster of the president have spoken out in support of the charges. The culture of conglomerates, or chaebol, having outsized influence in politics and society has been one of the grievances of protesters who have been demonstrating against the president for months.
“This is a decision that values law and principle,” the Democratic Party of Korea’s spokesman Gi Dong-min said. “Arresting Lee will save Samsung and the national economy. This is the beginning of a real and extensive chaebol reform. It’s a great opportunity to break apart the ugly relationship between politics and business.”
Haeryun Kang contributed to this post.