In the latest development in South Korea’s massive corruption scandal that led to the parliament voting to impeach President Park Geun-hye, the heir apparent of the country’s largest conglomerate Samsung — Lee Jae-yong — was arrested on bribery charges Friday.
The Seoul Central District Court issued the arrest warrant for the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics in the investigation team’s second attempt at requesting the writ on charges of hiding criminal proceeds and violating the law on transferring assets abroad in addition to the charges of bribery, embezzlement and perjury that were turned down less than a month ago.
Lee, 48, is accused of paying almost $36 million in bribes to President Park’s aide Choi Soo-sil, who is at the center of the country’s largest corruption scandal in recent history. The payments were allegedly made in return for political favors like the government’s support for a business move — a 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates — that helped him gain control of Samsung from his father Lee Kun-hee, the ailing chairman of the conglomerate.
“Given the newly presented criminal charges and the additional evidence collected, the legal grounds and need for arresting him are recognized,” Han Jeong-seok, the judge issuing the warrant, reportedly said Friday.
Lee, who is known by the name Jay Y. Lee in the West, was questioned a number of times before he became the first leader of the country’s largest business group to be arrested in a criminal probe. In the past, his father was convicted of bribery and tax evasion on two instances but did not have to do any jail time after being pardoned by the president, New York Times reported.
The South Korean government has repeatedly been accused of colluding with the country’s big family-owned conglomerates, also referred to as chaebols. When people took to the streets of Seoul to demand that President Park be ousted, there were also demands for big chaebols heirs like Lee to be arrested after benefiting from alleged favoritism.
Lee, who has a net worth of $6 billion, according to Forbes, is the third richest man in the country. Recently, however, Samsung has been dealing with a number of hurdles like the recall of its flagship Galaxy Note 7 device, despite having a market capitalization that accounts for a quarter of the value of all listed companies in the country.
His arrest may lead to a leadership vacuum in the company, which may also, in turn, adversely affect the South Korean economy.
Lee will stay at a detention center in Uiwang, south of Seoul. While the public may welcome his arrest, many also fear that even if he is convicted, he may be pardoned.