Kim Sang-jo, the new chief of South Korea’s antirust watchdog, testified Friday at the bribery trial of Samsung Electronics heir Lee Jae-yong.
The outspoken critic of family-run chaebol establishments, who now heads the Fair Trade Commission, appeared at the Seoul Central District Court in the afternoon to take the witness stand to testify on issues including the controversial merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015.
Chief of the Fair Trade Commission Kim Sang-jo (left) and Samsung Electronics vice-Chairman Lee Jae-yong are escorted to the Seoul's courtroom. (Yonhap)
“(As the chief of the FTC) There’s a great pressure to testify (against Samsung), but my testimony today can bring positive impacts on reshaping Samsung in the long run, and most importantly, the country’s economic development overall,” Kim told reporters before entering the courtroom.
Kim’s appearance on Friday came after independent counsel’s probe team asked him to connect the dots in court between the 2015 merger and Lee’s effort to cement his control over the electronics giant.
Lee is suspected of handing over 43.3 billion won ($38 million) in bribes to organizations controlled by Choi in order to get a contentious merger approved between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries.
Part of the money was provided to pay for horses for Choi’s equestrian daughter Chung Yoo-ra, as well as to sponsor Core Sports, a German agency run by Choi.
A former health minister has been convicted of abusing his power by pressuring state-run National Pension Service, world’s third-largest pension fund and the largest shareholder of one of the two affiliates, to support the controversial merger of two Samsung Group-affiliated companies.
During the investigation earlier this year, Kim, then-professor of international trade at Seoul’s Hansung University, testified to the independent counsel that the NPS has no panel of experts in asset management to speak up in the decision-making process, making it vulnerable to outside peddling influence.
The probe team sees the merger a crucial step for Lee to smooth the transfer of power from his father and the group’s chairman Lee Kun-hee.
The scandal later removed former President Park from office on March 10, which triggered the earlier-than-scheduled May 9 presidential election.
Earlier on Wednesday, Chung Yoo-ra, Choi’s daughter, made a surprising visit to the Seoul Central District Court in the morning as a witness of the counsel team in Lee’s trial.
Chung revealed details regarding Samsung’s support for her training, including the provision of three expensive horses.
In her testimony, Chung said that her mother met former Samsung Electronics president Park Sang-jin and former executive director Hwang Sung-soo to discuss the sponsorship, dealing Lee a huge blow to the ongoing trial.
The court will wrap up the trial of Lee in August.
By Bak Se-hwan (email@example.com)