Samsung chief denies all charges as bribery trial begins

Samsung Group leader Lee Jae Yong arriving for questioning at a special prosecutor's office in Seoul last month. He has been charged with bribery, embezzlement and other offences.
Samsung Group leader Lee Jae Yong arriving for questioning at a special prosecutor's office in Seoul last month. He has been charged with bribery, embezzlement and other offences.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • The de facto head of South Korea's Samsung Group, Lee Jae Yong, denies all charges against him, his lawyer said yesterday, at the start of what the special prosecutor said could be the "trial of the century" amid a political scandal that has rocked the country.

Lee has been charged with bribery, embezzlement and other offences in a corruption scandal that has already led to the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun Hye.

Lee, who is being detained at the Seoul Detention Centre, did not attend court. A defendant does not have to turn up during a preparatory hearing, held to organise evidence and set dates for witness testimony.

The date of the next hearing will be decided next week.

Lee's defence denied all charges against him on his behalf, saying that the special prosecution's indictment cites conversations, evidence or witnesses the prosecution did not actually hear, investigate or interview according to the rules, or states opinions that are not facts.

 
 

"It is unclear what kind of order Lee Jae Yong is supposed to have given," Mr Song Wu Cheol, who is defending Lee, told the court.

"The indictment cannot have statements that can create prejudices in the court about the case," the lawyer told reporters as he left court.

The Samsung Group has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

Among the charges against Lee, 48, are pledging bribes to a company and organisations linked to President Park's friend Choi Soon Sil, the woman at the centre of the scandal, to cement his control of the smartphones-to-biopharmaceuticals business empire.

Lee was indicted last month along with four other Samsung executives, but was the only one to have been detained. The prosecutor accuses him of conspiring to transfer 29.8 billion won (S$36.5 million) to Choi's organisations in return for favours. Lee must win the trial to resume guiding a US$240 billion (S$341 billion) corporation trying to bounce back from last year's botched debut of the Galaxy Note 7 phone.

Separately, a scion of South Korea's Hanwha Group was convicted of assault, joining the growing list of executives found guilty of misconduct at a time when scrutiny is mounting over the founding families that rule the nation's biggest conglomerates.

Kim Dong Seon, the youngest son of the group's chairman Kim Seung Youn, was found guilty on Wednesday of assaulting employees at a bar and damaging a police car that was transporting the 27-year-old to a local police station on Jan 5, a spokesman at the Seoul Central District Court said. The court sentenced him to eight months' jail, suspended for two years, as well as 80 hours of community service.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2017, with the headline 'Samsung chief denies all charges as bribery trial begins'. Print Edition | Subscribe