Samsung heir takes stand to deny corruption charges

Samsung Electronics vice-chairman Lee Jae Yong being escorted by guards as he arrived at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul yesterday.
Samsung Electronics vice-chairman Lee Jae Yong being escorted by guards as he arrived at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • The heir to the world's top smartphone maker Samsung took the stand yesterday in his corruption trial, to be questioned by prosecutors about the scandal that brought down South Korea's previous president.

It was the first time Lee Jae Yong, vice-president of Samsung Electronics and the son of Samsung chairman Lee Kun Hee, had faced interrogation since the high-profile proceedings began in March.

The 49-year-old yesterday told the court he had met the country's then-president Park Geun Hye for less than five minutes in 2014, disputing prosecutors' allegations that the two colluded to push through a crucial merger in return for financial favours.

Lee and four other Samsung executives are accused of bribing Park's powerful confidante with millions of dollars to win presidential favours and ease a controversial 2015 merger deal. The merger was seen as a key step in ensuring an untroubled power transfer to Lee from his father.

Park was formally impeached and removed from power in March after public uproar over her questionable ties with confidante Choi Soon Sil sparked mass nationwide protests for months.

Choi - daughter of a shady late religious figure who was Park's mentor for decades - is currently on trial for allegedly using her presidential ties to force top South Korean firms including Samsung to "donate" nearly US$70 million (S$95 million) to non-profit foundations which she controlled.

Park is also detained and on trial on 18 charges including coercion, abuse of power and bribery for allegedly offering policy favours to tycoons who bribed Choi. She is also accused of letting Choi, who has no title or security clearance, handle a wide range of state affairs including senior nominations and even her daily wardrobe choices.

Park has denied all wrongdoing and blamed Choi for abusing their friendship.

Samsung, the single largest donor to Choi's foundations, also separately gave her millions of euros to bankroll her daughter's equestrian training in Germany.

Lee has denied all wrongdoing, arguing that he was not aware of Choi's existence until recently, and that Samsung was pressured to pay the money and did not seek any policy favours in return.

Choi Gee Sung, a former Samsung Electronics vice-chairman and a co-defendant - took the blame in his testimony yesterday, saying that Lee was not involved in daily business decisions made by other senior executives such as himself.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2017, with the headline 'Samsung heir takes stand to deny corruption charges'. Print Edition | Subscribe