South Korea Arrests Samsung Vice Chairman

Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was arrested on Friday for his alleged connection to the influence-peddling scandal that rocked South Korea at the end of last year and lead to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, state media reported.

Lee Jae-yong in 2016Lee Jae-yong (Photo: KBS, CC BY 3.0)Prosecutors are accusing Lee — the first leader in Samsung’s history to be detained in a criminal probe — of paying 43 billion won (US$ 37.37 million) in bribes to organizations linked to the president’s childhood friend Choi Soon-sil to secure the 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates and solidify his control of the business.

The Seoul Central District Court issued the warrant for Lee’s arrest on allegations of bribery, perjury and embezzlement, citing the risk that he might destroy evidence or flee, a court spokesperson said.

Lee was taken into custody at the Seoul Detention Center early Friday after waiting there overnight for the court decision, Reuters reported.

"We will summon Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong on Saturday. We will make sure that we establish grounds to indict him," a spokesman for the special prosecutor Lee Kyu-chul told reporters.

A spokeswoman for Samsung Group said the chaebol had yet to decide whether to contest Lee’s arrest or seek bail.

"We will do our best to ensure that the truth is revealed in future court proceedings," the Samsung Group said in a brief statement.

Lee — who has led the country’s largest conglomerate since his father, Lee-Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack in 2014 — avoided arrest last month when the same court rejected the prosecution’s first request due to a lack of evidence.

But the prosecutors questioned the billionaire again for 15 hours on Monday, and a spokesman said they found evidence that Lee was hiding profits gained illegally and concealing money overseas, Bloomberg reported.

Lee confirmed at a previous hearing in December that the family-owned business conglomerate sponsored the equestrian career of Choi’s daughter Chung Yoo-ra, including the purchases of horses and training.

Choi, the president’s confidante at the center of the scandal, has been detained since late October. She has been charged with abuse of power, attempted fraud, bribery and obstruction of business.

South Korea’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 9 to impeach President Park, giving the power of the president to Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn. The country’s Constitutional Court was given 180 days to review the impeachment.