South Korean court has cited a lack of evidence in denying an arrest warrant for Lee Jae-yong, also known as Jay Y. Lee, the heir-apparent to the Samsung Group empire. Mr Lee was accused of involvement in a national bribery and corruption scandal that led to the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye in December 2016.
Mr Lee faced charges of bribery, embezzlement and perjury as Samsung is accused of having paid bribes of nearly $US 36.6 million (43 billion Korean won) in exchange for governmental backing of a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015. Prosecutors allege that these bribes would ultimately help transfer the control of Samsung to Mr Lee.
The case is part of an ongoing investigation into the actions of Ms Park and close associate, Choi Soon-sil. Ms Park is accused of working with Ms Choi to exchange favours with companies such as Samsung for bribes paid to non-profit foundations backing presidential initiatives. Samsung has admitted to providing funds to such foundations but has consistently denied receiving any business favours.
The denial of the warrant is expected to hamper authorities’ efforts to further investigate Ms Park’s involvement in the bribery scandal.
Mr Lee is part of the third generation of the Lee family to control the Samsung conglomerate. He was widely viewed as spearheading a new style of transparent business, following his father’s own troubled history. Mr Lee’s father, Lee Kun-hee, was convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion but was pardoned twice.
While some business groups are concerned about the impact of the bribery probe on the nation’s economy, many civil organisations are appalled at the growing evidence of ongoing collusion between business and the government.
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