Asia-Pacific News

Samsung's Lee leaves South Korea prosecution office after questioning

Lee Jae-Yong, vice chairman of Samsung leaves to adjourn for lunch during a parliamentary hearing over the Choi Soon-sil probe at the National Assembly on December 6, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea.
Jeon Heon-Kyun | Getty Images

Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee left the South Korean special prosecutor's office early on Friday, more than 22 hours after arriving for questioning on bribery suspicions in an influence-peddling scandal that could topple President Park Geun-hye.

Broadcaster YTN showed Lee leaving the special prosecution office without answering reporters' questions, then heading to a waiting car.

Prosecutors have been investigating whether Samsung provided 30 billion won ($25.28 million) to a business and foundations backed by Park's friend, Choi Soon-sil, in exchange for the national pension fund's support for a 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates.

Yonhap News Agency said the special prosecutor was still considering whether to seek a warrant to arrest the 48-year-old Lee, the third-generation leader of South Korea's largest conglomerate, or chaebol.

Yonhap cited the special prosecution office as saying Lee denied wrongdoing related to the key suspicions over which he was being questioned, and that investigators did not plan to summon him for further questioning.

An official in the special prosecutor's office was not immediately available for comment. A Samsung spokeswoman declined to comment.

Lee was named as a suspect on Wednesday and summoned on Thursday morning for questioning.

The corruption scandal has engulfed the highest reaches of South Korea's elite, with Park impeached by parliament in December, a decision that must be upheld or overturned by the country's Constitutional Court.

Park, who has been stripped of her powers in the meantime, has denied wrongdoing.

Samsung has acknowledged making payments to two foundations at the center of the scandal, as well as to a consulting firm controlled by Choi, but has repeatedly denied accusations of lobbying to push through the controversial 2015 merger of affiliates Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries.

Late last month, the head of South Korea's National Pension Service, the world's third-largest pension fund, was arrested after he acknowledged that he had pressured the fund to approve the $8 billion merger between the two Samsung Group affiliates while he was head of the health ministry, reversing an earlier public denial.

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