South Korean investigators again seek arrest of Samsung heir

Jay Y Lee

Jay Y Lee

Samsung watchers have said Lee's arrest would not affect the day-to-day running of group companies including Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, which are run by professional managers, but a prolonged absence could impact longer-term and strategic decision making.

Seoul Central District Court said it will hold a hearing on Thursday to review the request to issue an arrest warrant citing those crimes.

The prosecution suspects Lee to have made $37 million United States dollars in bribes to President Park Geun Hye's friend Choi Soon-Sil in exchange for the backing of a merger between two Samsung groups that would essentially allow the transfer of control of Samsung to Lee Jae Yong.

This is a second go for the prosecutors to arrest Lee as so far there had not been enough to have him arrested.

A decision may come late on Thursday or early Friday, based on previous instances.

Park, whose powers were suspended in December by parliament, is awaiting a decision by the Constitutional Court on whether she will be permanently removed from the presidency.

But prosecutors on Tuesday made a second bid for his arrest, saying they had collected more evidence in recent weeks.

Samsung was the biggest donor among dozens of South Korean companies that donated a total of almost 70 million dollars (£56 million) to two non-profit foundations controlled by Ms Choi, the president's friend. The scandal has rocked South Korea with millions of people taking to the streets in protest.

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But a spokesman for the prosecutor's office said on Wednesday it had since then expanded the charges against Lee to include hiding the proceeds of a criminal act, as well as bribery, embezzlement, hiding assets overseas and perjury.

The prosecution also said it would decide later whether to seek charges against three other Samsung executives.

The president and prosecutors have still not agreed on a schedule for her questioning, but the telephone records for Park and Choi could give weight to the prosecutors' argument. It is also accused of separately giving millions of euros to Choi to bankroll her daughter's equestrian training in Germany.

Samsung said in a statement Wednesday it had "not paid bribes nor made improper requests to the president seeking favours".

Korea's National Pension Service, a $452 billion fund with money from 22 million citizens, was the largest investor in Samsung C&T and voted in favor of the merger, playing a key role in its narrow approval.

Lee has effectively taken the helm of Samsung since his father suffered a heart attack in 2014.

Park, who remains in the presidential Blue House, could become the first democratically elected leader in South Korea to be forced from office.

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