Court rejects arrest of Samsung group heir

- Agence France-Presse, SEOUL

Jan 20, 2017-

A South Korean court on Thursday refused to authorise the arrest of the heir to the Samsung business empire, in a setback to prosecutors probing a corruption scandal engulfing President Park Geun-Hye.

Officials on Monday sought the arrest of Lee Jae-Yong on charges of bribery, embezzlement and perjury, sending shock waves through the group, which is a major part of the South Korean economy and includes the world’s largest smartphone maker. 

It is already reeling from the debacle over the recall of its flagship Galaxy Note 7 device and reports have suggested it could face sanctions from overseas authorities if Lee is punished.

Lee, who became Samsung’s de facto head after his father suffered a heart attack in 2014, is accused of bribing Choi Soon-Sil, Park’s secret confidante at the centre of the scandal, and receiving policy favours from Park in return. But the court rejected the request on grounds of insufficient evidence, which could mar investigators’ plan to question Park—impeached by parliament last month—on charges of bribery.

A spokesman for the prosecution team described 

the decision as “very regrettable” but said they will “carry on with our probe without wavering”.

Opposition politicians 

and analysts questioned the decision. 

Seoul mayor Park Won-Soon, who is expected to stand for president later this year, accused the court of basing its decision on the potential economic ramifications rather than justice. “A fair ruling is a requirement for economic improvement,” he said on Facebook. “A country that tolerates corruption cannot do well economically.”

Samsung is South Korea’s largest business group and its revenue is equivalent to about a fifth of the country’s GDP. 

Kim Nam-Geun, a Seoul lawyer and a political commentator, added: “A court usually approves arrest warrants over bribery cases involving such an enormous amount of money and circumstantial evidence.”

As well as the investigation of Park, the decision could weaken prosecutors’ probes into the heads of other conglomerates implicated in the scandal, said Choi Chang-Ryol, a professor of politics at Yongin University. “It would be far easier for prosecutors to quiz Lee if they have him under detention, and eventually build a bribery case against Park as well,” he said.

Lee, 48, was seen early Thursday leaving a detention centre where he had awaited the decision for the previous 18 hours, following a hearing by the court.

Investigators said Lee gave or promised some 43 billion won ($36.3 million) worth of bribes to Choi, allegedly in return for the state pension fund’s backing of a merger of two Samsung affiliates—deemed crucial for Lee’s hereditary succession at Samsung.

Published: 20-01-2017 09:41

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