"The defendant, Jay Y. Lee, didn't even know that the contribution was made, because that's not part of his job," his lawyer, Song Wu-cheol, told the court. Lee had merely relayed the comments from one-on-one meetings with Park to his top lieutenant, Choi Gee-sung, he added.
Choi, a former Samsung Group vice chairman considered a mentor to Jay Y. Lee, left the conglomerate on March 1 after it dismantled its corporate strategy office - a nerve center long considered an instrument for the founding Lee family's management of the companies.
Clad in white shirt and gray suit, Lee, himself the vice chairman of Samsung
Electronics Co Ltd, was mostly expressionless. He nodded when one of
his attorneys reiterated his previous denials of having paid bribes.
Beyond confirming personal details such as his name and occupation, Lee
remained silent when the judge asked if he had anything to say in response to
the charges he faces.
Lee's lawyers said the Samsung boss made financial payments in response to
requests by then-President Park and sought no favors in return.
The leader of the smartphones-to-biopharmaceuticals business empire is the only founding family member among the country's most powerful conglomerates, called chaebol, to be indicted in a graft scandal that led to Park becoming South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be removed from office.
Park herself was arrested last week on charges such as colluding with Choi to pressure businesses such as Samsung to contribute to foundations that backed her administration's policy initiatives.
But the special prosecution says Samsung's Lee actively curried Park's favor to cement his control of the family business empire.
"We have secured enough evidence proving that defendant Lee Jae-yong made improper requests to the president," said Park Young-soo, the special prosecutor, referring to the Samsung leader by his Korean name.
Lee sought Park's help in maximizing his control of the Samsung companies at
the lowest possible cost, he added.