Samsung heir to be quizzed again over corruption scandal

[SEOUL] South Korean prosecutors said Sunday they would question the Samsung heir again as part of a probe into a corruption and influence-peddling scandal that caused President Park Geun-hye to be impeached.

Lee Jae-yong, Samsung Electronics vice chairman and the son of the Samsung group boss Lee Kun-hee, has been quizzed several times over his alleged role in the scandal that has rocked the nation.

The 48-year-old will be summoned again Monday morning, said a spokesman for the special team of prosecutors probing the affair.

Lee, described as a key suspect in the scandal, narrowly avoided being formally arrested last month when the prosecutors accused him of bribery involving nearly US$40 million.

A Seoul court rejected the arrest warrant on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Lee has effectively taken the helm of the group since his father suffered a heart attack in 2014.

"We need to question Lee...over other things we have discovered (after the arrest warrant was rejected)," said Lee Kyu-Chul, spokesman for the prosecutors' team.

The scandal centres on Park's secret confidante Choi Soon-sil, who is accused of using her presidential ties to force local firms to "donate" tens of millions of dollars to two non-profit foundations which Choi allegedly used for personal gain.

Samsung was the biggest donor to the foundations and is accused of separately giving millions of euros to Choi and her daughter in a bid to receive policy favours from Park in return.

Park has been named as an accomplice with Choi, and also stands accused of letting Choi handle a wide range of state affairs including senior nominations even though she held no official post.

Two other senior Samsung executives would also be questioned Monday as criminal suspects, the spokesman said.

Prosecutors may try again to formally arrest Lee based on the outcome of the questioning, he added.

Samsung is South Korea's largest group with revenue equivalent to about a fifth of the country's GDP. Its key unit Samsung Electronics is the world's largest smartphone maker.

But it suffered a major blow to its reputation after its de facto leader was accused of bribing Choi in a bid to ensure a smooth transition of power within the founding Lee family.

Prosecutors are probing whether Samsung's payments to Choi were aimed at securing official approval for the controversial merger of two Samsung units in 2015, seen as smoothing the way for a transition.

The merger was opposed by many investors who said it wilfully unvalued the shares of one of the firms. But it went through after the state pension fund - a major Samsung shareholder - approved it.


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