Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong arrested on bribery charges
Samsung Electronic Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was put behind bars as a Seoul court issued a warrant early Friday morning on bribery charges involving the influence-peddling scandal that has rocked South Korea and led to impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.
Judge Han Jung-seok of the Seoul Central District Court issued the warrant at 5:37 a.m., saying there were "sufficient grounds" for his arrest. Lee has become the first leader in Samsung's 79-year history to be detained on criminal charges. Prosecutors can detain him for up to 20 days before formally indicting him.
"Considering newly raised allegations and additionally collected evidence, the need for confinement is recognized," Han said.
Lee avoided arrest last month when the court dismissed the prosecutors' request citing the lack of evidence.
The judge dismissed prosecutors' request to arrest Park Sang-jin, a president at Samsung Electronics overseeing external relations, saying that it was difficult to justify Park's arrest given his position and role within the company.
The claims against Lee revolve around a controversial merger between the electronics giant's construction arm, Samsung C&T, and an affiliate firm, Cheil Industries in 2015. The merger was seen as critical for Lee to consolidate his leadership in the nation's biggest business empire. The special prosecutor team has claimed Samsung paid bribes totaling 43 billion won ($37.8 million) to two foundations set up by Park's longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, in return for political support for the deal.
Samsung has denied that it has offered bribes or sought any wrongful favors from the President.
Samsung Group faces its biggest crisis in its history with the arrest of its chief.
Right after its chief was detained, Samsung issued a one-line statement, saying: "We will do our best to ensure that the truth is revealed in future court proceedings."
Lee is currently vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics. But since his father, Lee Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack in 2014, he is the de facto boss of the entire Samsung Group conglomerate.