​Samsung boss denies role in presidential scandal

Samsung Electronics vice chairman and de facto boss of the conglomerate has apologized for its involvement in the country's biggest political scandal, but has denied any direct wrongdoing.
Written by Cho Mu-Hyun, Contributing Writer

Samsung vice chairman Lee Jae-yong has apologized for the conglomerate's involvement in South Korea's political scandal involving the president, but denied that the group paid bribes.

Lee, the de facto boss of the entire Samsung Group, and six other bosses of the country's biggest conglomerates were called as witnesses in the biggest National Assembly hearing of its kind for their alleged role in the political scandal involving President Park Geun-hye.

Choi Soon-sil, the president's close friend, allegedly used her influence to collect bribes from large businesses for herself and her family's gain.

It was revealed that the bosses of local family-owned conglomerates, the so-called chaebols, met the president one-on-one. They allegedly agreed to give financial support to foundations that her friend made in return for favors in businesses. Samsung also allegedly paid additional bribes by giving financial support, nominally, for Choi's daughter's equestrian career.

The conglomerates have denied that they paid bribes and said they were victims of extortion.

Asked repeatedly by different assemblymen on whether he knew Choi well, Lee said he could not remember when he made acquaintance with her, adding that he did not know her for long.

The vice chairman also denied that Park asked for "donations" or "financial support".

Samsung's office was raided twice by local investigators over allegations that it bribed Choi to gain support for a controversial merger between two of its affiliates. This allegedly resulted in the formation of a de facto holding company and more control over the conglomerate by the founding Lee family.

Lee, who was appointed inside director of Samsung Electronics in November in a shareholders meeting after the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, admitted meeting the boss of the national pension service -- which owned a large stake in Samsung C&T. However, Lee denied the firm bribed Choi to use her influence to force the national pension to vote in favor for the merger, which US hedge fund Elliott Associates fought against.

President Park Geun-hye's popularity has now dropped to 4 percent, the lowest ever for a Korean president. Street demonstrations demanding her resignation have been going on for near two months with no sign of abating.

The scandal has also put the Creative Economy & Innovation initiative in jeopardy. The program was a co-initiative with the government and conglomerates to create incubators nationwide to support startups. Since the scandal, the initiative has lost steam and related conferences have seen attendance and support drop.

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