Rope-bound Samsung heir emerges from detention

Samsung Group chief Lee arriving at the office of special prosecutors in Seoul yesterday. He was arrested a day earlier for his alleged role in a corruption scandal that has led to the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun Hye, and he spent
Samsung Group chief Lee arriving at the office of special prosecutors in Seoul yesterday. He was arrested a day earlier for his alleged role in a corruption scandal that has led to the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun Hye, and he spent the night in a one-man detention cell.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL • Handcuffed and with his arms tied with white rope, the scion of Samsung Group, one of the world's biggest conglomerates, was yesterday taken for questioning by the South Korean authorities after spending a night in a detention cell.

Samsung Group chief Lee Jae Yong was arrested last Friday for his alleged role in a corruption scandal that has led to the impeachment of President Park Geun Hye.

The 48-year-old Lee, who has a net worth of US$6.2 billion (S$8.8 billion), heads the technology giant that is the world's biggest manufacturer of smartphones, flat-screen televisions and memory chips.

When he arrived at the office of special prosecutors investigating the case, Mr Lee stared straight ahead as he was greeted by a horde of journalists and camera flashes.

He kept silent as journalists asked him questions, but the handcuffs could be glimpsed under the sleeves of his well-tailored, navy suit, and white ropes seen around his arms and back. A badge on his chest bore his prisoner number.

During his first night at the Seoul Detention Centre, the Samsung de facto head was kept in a one-man cell instead of a six-person room - a privilege reserved for dignitaries, local news reports said.

During his first night at the Seoul Detention Centre, the Samsung de facto head was kept in a one-man cell instead of a six-person room - a privilege reserved for dignitaries, local news reports said.

But the 6.27 sq m dwelling was a far cry from his US$4 million home in Seoul. Like all others awaiting trial, he spent his time in detention wearing an inmates' uniform and eating prison meals - rice, soup and three side dishes - worth 1,440 won (S$1.80), served on a plastic tray and slid through a small window in the cell door. Food brought from outside is prohibited, said the Chosun Ilbo daily.

After their meals, inmates have to clean their trays themselves and sleep on folding mattresses.

A single-channel TV, whose programme is pre-selected and recorded by the authorities, is allowed only during the day.

Other inmates at the detention house include Choi Soon Sil - a close confidante of the president who is at the centre of the influence-peddling scandal - the former head of Ms Park's presidential staff and her former culture minister. All are incarcerated in their own single cells.

Mr Lee is the highest-profile business figure accused in the scandal, which centres on Choi, who allegedly used her close ties with Ms Park to force local firms to "donate" nearly US$70 million to non-profit foundations which Choi allegedly used for personal gain.

The special prosecutor's office said Samsung paid bribes to Choi to ensure government support for a 2015 merger of affiliates that tightened Mr Lee's grip on the chaebol, as Korea's dominant business groups are called.

Mr Lee is expected to be indicted on charges including bribery, embezzlement, hiding assets overseas and perjury. A first trial can take up to six months, according to the Korean Criminal Code.

Samsung is going through a restructuring to clear a succession path for Mr Lee to assume control after his father was incapacitated by a heart attack in 2014.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'Rope-bound Samsung heir emerges from detention'. Print Edition | Subscribe