South Korea prosecutor weighs economic impact of arrest of Samsung chief Lee Jae Yong

South Korea's special prosecutor delays until Monday (January 16) a decision on whether to seek a warrant to arrest Samsung Group leader Jay Y Lee, a suspect in an influence-peddling investigation involving President Park Geun Hye.VIDEO: REUTERS
Lee Jae Yong (centre), Vice-Chairman of Samsung Electronics, leaves the special prosecutor's office in Seoul, South Korea on Jan 13, 2017.
Lee Jae Yong (centre), Vice-Chairman of Samsung Electronics, leaves the special prosecutor's office in Seoul, South Korea on Jan 13, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (Reuters) -  South Korea’s special prosecutor said on Sunday (Jan 15) it will take into account the economic impact of whether to arrest Samsung Group leader Lee Jae Yong in connection with an influence-peddling investigation involving the president.  

The office also delayed by one day, until Monday, its decision on whether to seek the arrest of Lee, the third-generation leader of South Korea’s largest conglomerate, or chaebol, citing the gravity of the case.

The special prosecution had said it would make a decision on Lee by Sunday. But spokesman Lee Kyu Chul told reporters on Sunday investigators were deliberating all factors including the potential economic impact of the arrest of Lee Jae Yong.   

Prosecutors have been investigating whether Samsung provided 30 billion won (S$36.47 million) to a business and foundations backed by Park’s friend, Choi Soon Sil, in exchange for the national pension fund’s support for a 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates.  

The Samsung chief denied bribery accusations during a parliamentary hearing in December.

“This is quite a significant matter, so it has been delayed from what we said on Friday,” spokesman Lee said on Sunday, adding that investigators would also decide on whether to seek arrest warrants for three other Samsung Group executives who were questioned.  

A Samsung Group spokeswoman declined to comment.  

Samsung’s Lee, 48, was questioned for 22 hours before leaving the special prosecutors’ office in Seoul on Friday as part of the investigation into a corruption scandal that has led to President Park’s impeachment by parliament.  

Establishing a money-for-favour exchange between Samsung and Park is critical for the special prosecutor’s investigation, analysts say.  

A court is deciding whether to uphold or overturn the impeachment vote.  

Park, the daughter of a military ruler, has denied wrongdoing, although she has apologised for exercising poor judgment. Her friend, Choi, who is in detention and facing her own trial, has also denied wrongdoing.  

If Park is forced to leave office, a presidential election would be held within 60 days. Among the expected contenders is former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.  

Samsung has acknowledged making contributions to the two foundations as well as a consulting firm controlled by Choi but has repeatedly denied accusations of lobbying to push through the merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries Inc.  

The special prosecution also plans to indict early next week National Pension Service chief Moon Hyung Pyo, who was arrested in December after acknowledging he pressured the fund to approve the merger while he was health minister.