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[Newsmaker] Samsung denies heir’s drug abuse allegations

Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong (Yonhap)
Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong (Yonhap)

Samsung Electronics flatly denied Thursday allegations that its heir apparent and Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong illegally received injections of propofol, a short-acting sedative and anesthetic drug.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office began looking into the accusations after the state anti-corruption watchdog, which received a tip from a whistleblower on Lee’s alleged drug use, referred the case to the prosecution last month.

The case came to light after investigative local news outlet Newstapa reported on Thursday an interview with the whistleblower, who claimed that his girlfriend, a nurse’s assistant at a hospital in Seoul, regularly gave Lee propofol shots.

According to the report, injections took place on multiple occasions between 2017 and 2018 at a plastic surgery clinic in the Gangnam district in southern Seoul. The report showed messages between the hospital chief, surnamed Kim, and the nurse’s assistant, surnamed Shin, as well as messages exchanged between Shin and a person suspected to be Lee, Samsung Electronics’ vice chairman.

The hospital shut down late last year after an investigation into separate drug abuse allegations involving Korean conglomerate Aekyung’s ownership family. Kim and Shin were indicted last month for violating the drug management law, with their first hearing scheduled for March 5.

Propofol, which was blamed for the death of US pop icon Michael Jackson in 2009, is a powerful sedative used as a general anesthetic, which reduces anxiety but may cause hallucinations. In Korea it was classified as a psychotropic medicine in 2011, as it has been abused by many due to its relatively easy access. Its use is illegal other than for stipulated medical treatments.

Samsung has flatly denied the allegation, saying it is considering legal action on the “malicious, false report.”

“(Lee) received treatment based on a doctor’s professional opinion and inevitably visited the clinic for personal reasons. The allegation of illegal drug use is not true,” the company said in a statement.

“We hope that truth can be clearly revealed through an upcoming investigation by prosecutors.”

Last year, Lee Jae-yong’s sister and Hotel Shilla CEO Lee Boo-jin became embroiled in a similar scandal involving the same drug, though a different clinic. The case is still under prosecutorial investigation.

By Ock Hyun-ju (