Lee Jae-yong, the acting head of Samsung, has been formally charged by South Korean prosecutors with bribery and other corruption offenses. The charges relate to a bizarre and far-reaching scandal that has seen the country’s President Park Geun-hye impeached.
“Special prosecutors today indicted Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong…for bribery, embezzlement, hiding of assets overseas…and perjury,” said Lee Kyu-Chul, a spokesman for the prosecutors probing the Park scandal. Among other things, Lee is accused of paying $40 million to a foundation controlled by a close aide of Park, Choi Soon-sil. In return, he is said to have sought favorable treatment of corporate affairs relating to the control of Samsung by his family.
Lee, who has headed the conglomerate – which sells everything from electronics to insurance – since his father’s illness in 2014, has denied the charges. Four other executives face similar charges.
The giant company was the world’s leading producer of smartphones last year, ahead of Apple. It also makes many of the semiconductors that power other brands of phones. Last year it suffered a major embarrassment when several of its Galaxy Note 7 flagship phones caught fire. The company recalled the devices but failed to fully correct the problem and had to withdraw the model from the market. It later blamed batteries made by a third-party manufacturer.
The scandal involving Park and Choi has also touched other members of Korea’s entertainment industry. A former culture minister, Cho Yoon-sun, was arrested earlier this month, and stands accused of creating a blacklist of talent to be denied public funding in return for not supporting the Park government. Cho was the first minister in Korea to be arrested while still in office. She subsequently resigned.