South Korea scandal: Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong a suspect

Lee Jae-yongImage copyright
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Lee Jae-yong has already been quizzed by politicians over the scandal at a parliamentary hearing

Samsung heir-apparent Lee Jae-yong is to be interviewed as a suspect in a corruption scandal surrounding the impeached South Korean president.

The firm is accused of giving donations to non-profit foundations operated by Choi Soon-sil, a confidante of President Park Geun-hye.

The donations were allegedly made in exchange for political support of a controversial merger.

Mr Lee will face special prosecutors on Thursday, officials said.

Samsung declined to comment.

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Mr Lee is currently vice-president of Samsung Electronics. But since his father, Lee Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack in 2014, he is considered de facto boss of the entire Samsung Group conglomerate.

Politicians voted on 9 December to impeach President Park over the scandal – a decision South Korea’s constitutional court has six months to uphold or overturn. Until then she remains formally president but stripped of her powers, which are handed to the prime minister, a presidential appointee.

  • – Grandson of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul, son of current chairman Lee Kun-hee.

  • – Aged 48, he’s spent his entire career in the company and is vice chairman of Samsung Electronics.

  • – Last year was nominated to join the board of Samsung Electronics – an appointment confirmed on 27 October.

  • – Widely expected to take overall control of Samsung once his 74-year-old father steps down.

  • – Critics say his position on the board is due to his birth, not his business experience.

The claims circle around a merger between the electronics giant’s construction arm, Samsung CT, and an affiliate firm, Cheil Industries.

Prosecutors allege that Samsung gave €2.8m euros ($3.1m; £2.5m) to a company co-owned by Ms Choi and her daughter, in return for Ms Park’s support for the deal.

Lee Jae-yong has already given evidence to politicians over the scandal, but this is the first time he will be quizzed as a suspect by investigators.

At the parliamentary hearing in December Samsung admitted giving a total of 20.4bn won (£16m; $17.46m) to the two foundations, but denied seeking favours.

And Mr Lee also confirmed the firm gave a horse and money to help the equestrian career of Ms Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, something he said he now regretted.

Earlier this week two other Samsung executives were interviewed by the special prosecutors, but were treated as witnesses rather than suspects.

Apologies and denials

Ms Park’s position began to unravel in October last year when details of her friendship with Ms Choi began to emerge. They included revelations that the president had allowed her old friend – who holds no government role – to edit political speeches.

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Ms Park denies wrongdoing

Since then, hundreds of thousands of protestors have gathered every weekend to demand Ms Park stands down.

Ms Park denies wrongdoing but has apologised for the way she managed her relationship with Ms Choi, who also denies committing criminal offences.

Ms Choi has been charged with coercion and attempted fraud.