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Court approves arrest of Samsung heir

Employees walk past a logo of Samsung Group at its headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday. (AP)
SEOUL: A South Korean court approved on Friday the arrest of a billionaire heir to Samsung accused of bribery and other charges in connection to a massive corruption scandal, a stunning decline for the princeling of South Korea’s richest family.
The Seoul Central District Court’s decision to issue a warrant to arrest Lee Jae-yong, 48, a vice chairman at Samsung Electronics and the only son of Samsung chair Lee Kun-hee.
The arrest of Samsung’s de facto leader will likely shock the business community and cheer the critics of chaebol, the South Korean family-controlled business conglomerates that dominate the economy.
It was seen as a test of the country’s judicial system that in the past had been lenient toward the powerful business elite families at chaebol for their white-collar crimes, citing their contributions to the national economy.
The court said additional evidence showed there were enough reasons to take Lee into custody. Prosecutors can detain him for up to 20 days before formally indicting him.
The court 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.
Lee was waiting for the decision at a detention center near Seoul overnight after a closed-door court hearing that lasted more than seven hours on Thursday. He was taken into custody while Park was released. Local media reported that Lee was sent to solitary confinement. The detention center declined to comment, saying it cannot give out private details.
Samsung said it will continue to defend itself in court.
“We will do our best to ensure that the truth is revealed in future court proceedings,” it said in a statement.
Lee avoided arrest last month when the court said prosecutors did not have enough evidence. The special prosecution team, probing the influence-peddling scandal that led to the impeachment of the country’s president, said they had gathered more evidence to strengthen their case and made a second request.
Prosecutors accused Lee of giving bribes worth $36 million to President Park Geun-hye and her close friend Choi Soon-sil to win government favors for a smooth company leadership transition. They are also investigating Lee on allegations of embezzlement of Samsung funds, hiding assets overseas and lying under oath during a parliamentary hearing.
The court decision could also help the prosecution team bring bribery charges against President Park Geun-hye whose powers were suspended in December by Parliament.
The special prosecution office is also reportedly looking into whether the value of Samsung Biologics, which went public last year, was overpriced to benefit the Samsung founding family and also whether the fair trade commission gave any favors to Samsung in relation to its complex cross shareholding structure, which allows the Lee family to control the sprawling businesses with only a minority stake.

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