Jay Y. Lee, the Samsung Global vice chairman and acting head, is reportedly facing arrest for attempting to bribe the President of South Korea. The news arrives via the New York Times and comes soon after the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye in December, following reports of corruption.
Allegedly, Ms Park’s aide, Choi Soon-sil, has used her position to seek funds from several business conglomerates to two foundations she controls. Mr Lee stands accused of ordering Samsung subsidiaries to make multimillion-dollar donations to those foundations, and others ran by Ms Choi and her family, in return for political favors.
Specifically, the donations are said to be linked to a decision by the National Pension Service — a government-controlled body — to support a disputed merger between two Samsung affiliates in 2015. The backing of the National Pension Service is believed to have been crucial to that merger, which in turn may have helped Mr Lee assume control of Samsung after his father, Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee, was incapacitated following a heart attack in 2014.
“If Mr Lee is arrested, it will be a landmark in South Korea’s efforts to fight corruption in the country’s powerful family-controlled conglomerates,” wrote The New York Times, “And could disrupt his efforts to inherit management control of Samsung.”
Mr Lee senior has been previously convicted of bribery and tax evasion, though in each case his sentence was suspended. His criminal records were also later erased in presidential pardons.
President Park and Ms Choi have denied any wrongdoing, while Mr Lee claims Samsung’s donations were involuntary, suggesting the company was extorted.
The New York Times says an arrest warrant for Mr Lee has been called for but that it could take a few days for the Seoul court to decide whether to issue it.