Special prosecutors called Samsung Electronics Co. Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee for questioning as a suspect in a bribery investigation, deepening an influence-peddling scandal that has already led to the impeachment of South Korea's president, according to a new Bloomberg report posted earlier today.
The de facto head of the Samsung Group was summoned to appear at 9:30 a.m. in Seoul on Thursday, special prosecution spokesman Lee Kyu-chul said in a briefing. While Lee, 48, was widely expected to be called in for questioning, the fact that he was identified as a suspect was a surprise.
"Special prosecutors are mainly after President Park, but in this case, to charge Park with bribery, they have to prove her connection with Samsung," said Chung Sun-sup, who runs corporate researcher Chaebul.com. "Prosecutors used to overlook the chaebols' wrongdoings in the past, but this scandal is different because citizens can no longer tolerate the cozy relationship between politics and business."
Prosecutors are investigating whether Samsung provided support to Choi in exchange for government help in Lee's efforts to take control of the conglomerate. In particular, they want to know whether the president exerted pressure on Korea's national pension service to support the controversial merger of two Samsung Group companies, Cheil Industries Inc. and Samsung C&T Corp. The deal, opposed by some investors, was approved in 2015 and makes it easier for Lee to gain influence over the sprawling conglomerate his grandfather founded.
Prosecutors have recovered a tablet PC that they believe belongs to Choi and includes some of her e-mails. They presented the device to reporters at a briefing today and said one e-mail from it indicates Choi received funds from Samsung.
"Samsung wanted to be seen as a victim, but that's now impossible because Lee is named as a suspect," Chung said. "When somebody is summoned as a suspect it means prosecutors have obtained definite evidence."
Photo: Samsung Heir Lee at parliamentary hearing in Seoul on Dec. 6, 2016
Reuters reports that "A spokesman for prosecutors, Lee Kyu-chul, told a briefing the Samsung leader had been summoned for questioning at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday (7 p.m. ET on Wednesday) over suspicions including bribery.
He declined to comment on whether Jay Y. Lee or other Samsung executives will be indicted but would not rule out the possibility of the prosecution seeking an arrest warrant against Lee."
For a little background, Patently Apple began covering this story back in November in a report titled "Samsung's Troubles Continue as they get Dragged into a Political Scandal accusing them of Influence Peddling." We posted a second report in December titled "Samsung's Vice Chairman Lee Says he'll Shut Down their 'Future Strategy Bureau' used for Bribery and Influence Peddling."