Samsung chief Lee Jae Yong arrives for hearing on arrest warrant

Samsung Group leader Jay Y Lee arrives in court for a hearing to decide whether he should be arrested on suspicion of bribery, embezzlement and false testimony.
Mr. Lee Jae Yong, Samsung Group leader, leaves the special prosecutor's office in Seoul, South Korea on Jan 13, 2017.
Mr. Lee Jae Yong, Samsung Group leader, leaves the special prosecutor's office in Seoul, South Korea on Jan 13, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (Reuters) - Samsung Group leader Lee Jae Yong arrived at a prosecutor's office in Seoul on Wednesday (Jan 18) en route to a court hearing, where a judge will decide whether he should be arrested over his alleged role in a corruption scandal that has rocked South Korea.

The 48-year-old Lee, wearing a dark overcoat and purple necktie, did not answer questions from reporters as he entered the special prosecutor's office, from where he was due to be driven to the Seoul Central District Court.

A special prosecutor on Monday said it would seek a warrant to arrest the third-generation leader of the country's largest conglomerate on suspicion of bribery, embezzlement and perjury.

Lee, questioned last week for 22 straight hours at the prosecutor's office in Seoul, has denied wrongdoing.

The influence-peddling scandal led parliament last month to impeach President Park Geun Hye, a decision that if upheld by the Constitutional Court, will see her become the country's first democratically-elected leader forced from office early.

Park, 64, has denied wrongdoing.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10:30am (9:30am Singapore time) and it is possible that the judge's decision may not be announced until after midnight, a court official told Reuters on Tuesday.

The special prosecutor has accused Lee of paying bribes totalling 43 billion won (US$36.70 million) to organisations linked to Choi Soon Sil, a friend of the president who is at the centre of the scandal, to secure the 2015 merger of two affiliates and cement his control of the family business.

Earlier this week, the special prosecutor indicted the chairman of the National Pension Service (NPS), the world's third-largest pension fund and a major Samsung shareholder, on charges of abuse of power and giving false testimony.

NPS chairman Moon Hyung Pyo was arrested in December after acknowledging ordering it to support the controversial US$8 billion merger in 2015 of the two Samsung Group affiliates while heading the health ministry, which oversees the NPS.

The merger of the two Samsung Group units – Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T – was seen as a crucial step towards ensuring a smooth third-generation power transfer to Lee. Many people criticised it, saying it wilfully undervalued Samsung C&T’s stock. But the NPS voted in favour of the deal and it went through.

Lee became Samsung group's de facto leader after his father, Lee Kun Hee, was incapacitated by a 2014 heart attack.

On Tuesday, the special prosecutor's office said it did not seek arrest warrants for three other Samsung Group executives who also underwent questioning, in order to minimise the impact on Samsung business.

The group's flagship, Samsung Electronics, is the world's biggest maker of smartphones, flatscreen TVs and memory chips.