The prosecution on Monday asked a Seoul court to sentence Samsung Group’s heir apparent Lee Jae-yong to 12 years in jail for alleged bribery in connection with the corruption scandal that led to former President Park Geun-hye’s ouster. The court will rule on Aug. 25.
At the final hearing held at the Seoul Central District Court, Special Counsel Park Young-soo said that the Samsung Electronics vice chairman was a direct beneficiary and final decision maker in the bribery scheme.
“Samsung Group voluntarily offered funds rather than gave in to former President Park’s threats, expecting to get help in the group’s leadership transfer, after it received a request from (former President) Park,” he said during the hearing, calling it “a typical case showing cozy relations between politics and business.”
Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., enters the courthouse in Seoul on Aug. 7, 2017, for his trial over bribery and other charges in connection with former President Park Geun-hye. (Yonhap)
The 49-year-old billionaire heir was indicted on Feb. 28 on charges of bribery, embezzlement and perjury for allegedly seeking political favors from the Park administration in return for paying or promising to pay 43.4 billion won in donations to foundations controlled by Park’s close confidante Choi Soon-sil and in sports sponsorship to Choi’s horse-riding daughter.
Special Counsel claimed that the money was a bribe to win the government’s backing for the 2015 merger of Samsung Group’s two affiliates -- Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T -- a crucial step for a smooth leadership transition from its ailing chairman Lee Kun-hee to his only son, Lee Jae-yong.
Former President Park, in return for the money, is suspected of having pressured the state-funded National Pension Service, the largest stakeholder in Samsung C&T, to vote in favor of the controversial merger.
“I have never expected or asked the president for any favors whether it was for my private interest or for myself,” Lee said in his tearful final remark during the hearing. “However foolish I am, how can I inflict damage on the national pension, which is our Korean ordinary people’s retirement savings?”
Lee choked up with emotion and had to take a sip of water several times to calm himself during his five-minute speech as he vehemently denied all charges.
“While standing trial for the past few months, it was difficult to grasp complicated legal arguments and I cannot admit to my charges, but there is one thing I realized. I have too many shortcomings, I did not take care of things I had to care of and it is all my fault,” he said.
Lee has maintained that he had not been involved in making decisions to offer donations to the Choi-controlled entities, had no favors to ask for in return and was not even aware of Choi and her daughter Chung Yoo-ra’s existence.
This composite photo, filed on Aug. 3, 2017, shows from L to R Samsung Group heir Lee Jae-yong; Choi Gee-sung, former head of Samsung`s control tower Future Strategy Office; Chang Choong-ki, then its vice head; and Samsung Electronics executives Park Sang-jin and Hwang Sung-soo. (Yonhap)
Lee’s lawyer Song Woo-chul called Samsung Group, the nation’s top conglomerate, a “victim” and dismissed the counsel team’s accusations as lacking solid evidence.
“We think that the special counsel made a mistake of relying on the public sentiment,” the lawyer said, stressing the accusation is only based on the counsel’s “assumption” and “prejudice” toward Samsung Group and its young heir.
On Monday, the prosecution also sought prison terms of seven to 10 years for four other Samsung former and current executives, including former Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Choi Gee-sung and former Samsung Electronics President Park Sang-jin.
The officials have consistently argued that they had been forced to provide donations out of fear of former President Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil, and denied their chief Lee’s part in Samsung Group’s controversial decisions.
A total of 59 witnesses were called in to testify and investigation records of about 30,000 pages were reviewed through 53 regular hearings and 3 preparatory hearings since the trial kicked off on March 9.
The ruling, due later this month, is expected to serve as a barometer for the fate of ex-President Park and her friend Choi, who were arrested and put on trial in connection with the scandal.
Park, who was removed from office in March over the corruption scandal, is on a total of 18 charges including bribery and abuse of authority. She is suspected of pulling strings to benefit Samsung.
If Lee is found guilty, it will likely deal a heavy blow to Park, who is accused of conspiring with Choi and Lee to make the alleged money-for-political favors deal.
The ruling on Park is expected in October.
It is not yet decided whether the verdict hearing for Lee and Samsung executives will be televised. According to a recent change in court rules, it is now possible to broadcast live sentencing hearings deemed crucial for public interest.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org