Samsung chief questioned behind closed doors in arrest warrant hearing

Jay Lee has been implicated in an alleged corruption scandal that led parliament to impeach President Park Geun-hye.

People walk past the logo of Samsung Electronics at the company’s headquarters in Seoul on 30 July 2015. Picture: AFP/Jung Yeon-Je.

SEOUL - A South Korean judge questioned Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee behind closed doors on Wednesday to decide whether he should be arrested over his alleged role in a corruption scandal that led parliament to impeach President Park Geun-hye.

Lee, 48, in dark overcoat and purple necktie, did not answer questions from reporters on his way into the special prosecutor's office and then the Seoul Central District Court, where guards stopped journalists at the door.

A special prosecutor on Monday said it would seek a warrant to arrest the third-generation leader of the country's largest conglomerate on suspicion of bribery, embezzlement and perjury.

Lee, who has been the de facto leader of South Korea's biggest conglomerate since his father Lee Kun-hee was incapacitated by a 2014 heart attack, was questioned last week for 22 straight hours at the prosecutor's office in Seoul.

He has denied wrongdoing.

Park, 64, was impeached last month by parliament over the influence-peddling scandal, a decision that if upheld by the Constitutional Court will see her become the country's first democratically-elected leader forced from office early.

Park, who remains in office but stripped of her powers while the court decides her fate, has denied wrongdoing.
The judge may not announce his decision until after midnight, a court official told Reuters on Tuesday. Prosecution officials were still deciding where to hold Lee as he awaits his fate.

The special prosecutor has accused Lee of paying bribes totalling 43 billion won ($36.70 million) to organizations linked to Choi Soon-sil, a friend of the president who is at the centre of the scandal, to secure the 2015 merger of two affiliates and cement his control of the family business.

Earlier this week, the special prosecutor indicted the chairman of the National Pension Service (NPS), the world's third-largest pension fund, on charges of abuse of power and giving false testimony.

NPS chairman Moon Hyung-pyo was arrested in December after acknowledging ordering it to support the controversial $8 billion merger in 2015 of the two Samsung Group affiliates while heading the health ministry, which oversees the NPS.

On Tuesday, the special prosecutor's office said it did not seek arrest warrants for three other Samsung Group executives that also underwent questioning, in order to minimize the impact on Samsung business.

The group's flagship, Samsung Electronics, is the world's biggest maker of smartphones, flat screen TVs and memory chips.