Park impeachment fallout reaches Samsung leader
Lee Jae-yong, group heir apparent, to face questioning on bribery allegations
KENICHI YAMADA, Nikkei staff writer
SEOUL -- The special prosecutor's office investigating President Park Geun-hye's corruption scandal will interview Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong as a suspect, widening its dragnet to take in South Korea's leading conglomerate.
Lee, son and heir apparent to Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee, has been summoned for an interview on Thursday morning, the prosecutor's office said Wednesday. He was questioned by prosecutors in November, but as a witness, not a suspect.
The National Assembly set up the special prosecutor's office to get to the bottom of allegations that the president's longtime close friend, Choi Soon-sil, exploited their relationship to meddle in state affairs.
Lee is being summoned for questioning on suspicion of bribery, but the focus may change, a source close to the special prosecutor's office said Wednesday.
Investigators have obtained a tablet thought to be used by Choi. Details are still sketchy, but investigators have found "evidence that indicates Samsung's involvement" from emails stored in the device, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
Investigators have been focusing on an extraordinary shareholders meeting in July 2015 that approved the merger of Samsung group units Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T. The conglomerate, or chaebol, allegedly donated a total of 20.4 billion won ($17 million) to two foundations that were effectively controlled by Choi, possibly in return for a favor granted by the Park government.
It has been reported Samsung feared that the merger, which overseas shareholders opposed, would be blocked. Prosecutors believe that the Park administration helped the conglomerate by pressuring the National Pension Service, which held shares in the two Samsung units, through the Ministry of Health and Welfare to back the merger.
With the support of the pension service, the merger was approved at the shareholders meeting. Lee met Park roughly a week later. Whether the two made engaged in an improper quid pro quo over the merger is a key focus of the investigation. The special prosecutor's office also is looking into Samsung's financial assistance to Choi's daughter's equestrian career.
High-ranking Samsung executives have reportedly told investigators the conglomerate reluctantly made donations at the Park administration's request. Lee himself adamantly rejected the notion that the donations were bribes during his testimony before the National Assembly in December. Investigators, however, suspect that he lied then, and have asked the legislature to bring a perjury charge against him.