Samsung chief Jay Y Lee arrested in corruption investigation
The de facto leader of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong, was arrested on Friday on bribery charges, a dramatic turn in South Korea's decades-old struggle to end collusive ties between the government and powerful family-controlled conglomerates.
Lee, the vice chairman of Samsung, one of the world's largest conglomerates, was taken to a jail outside Seoul, the capital, soon after a judge at the Seoul Central District Court issued an arrest warrant early on Friday.
Lee, 48, was accused of paying US$36 million (NZ$49 million) in bribes to President Park Geun-hye's secretive confidante, Choi Soon-sil, in return for political favours from Park, like government support for a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that helped Lee inherit corporate control from his incapacitated father, Chairman Lee Kun-hee.
Lee Jae-yong, who also goes by the name Jay Y. Lee in the West, is the first head of Samsung, a symbol of power and wealth in South Korea, to face corruption charges. Other charges against him include embezzlement, illegal transfer of property abroad and committing perjury during a parliamentary hearing.
Analysts say his case is a litmus test of whether the country's relatively youthful democracy and judicial system are ready to crack down on the white-collar crimes of family-owned conglomerates, or chaebol, among which Samsung is the biggest and most profitable.
His arrest is also a hard-won victory for the special prosecutor, Park Young-soo, who has been struggling to establish a bribery case against Lee and Park Geun-hye.
Lee had survived the prosecutor's first attempt to arrest him last month, when a court in Seoul ruled that there was not enough evidence of bribery. But investigators have since collected what they called more incriminating evidence and again asked the court for an arrest warrant.
"Given the newly presented criminal charges and the additional evidence collected, the legal grounds and need for arresting him are recognised," the judge, Han Jeong-seok, said on Friday, issuing the arrest warrant.