Eight of South Korea’s biggest businesses, including Samsung and Hyundai, are being questioned by parliament in a rare TV hearing as part of a huge corruption inquiry.
The companies admitted giving millions of dollars to funds linked to President Park Geun-hye, but denied seeking favors.
Samsung admitted to giving the daughter of Park Geun-hye’s friend an expensive horse.
Parliament is due to vote on December 9 on the president’s impeachment over her involvement in the scandal.
Massive protests have been held in recent weeks demanding the president’s resignation.
The executives are being questioned by a cross-party committee of lawmakers. The panel has no power to punish but its chairman has said the hearing is a place for apology.
One of the corporate bosses acknowledged that it was difficult for companies to say no to government requests.
“It’s a South Korean reality that if there is a government request, it is difficult for companies to decline,” said Huh Chang-soo, head of the GS Group and chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries lobby group.
The conglomerates all gave large donations to non-profit foundations operated by Choi Soon-sil, a close confidante of Park Geun-hye.
Choi Soon-sil has been charged with coercion and attempted fraud.
Lawmakers spent the most time grilling Samsung’s Lee Kun-hee. Samsung has been accused of giving donations in exchange for support of a controversial merger that effectively strengthened his position in the company.
Samsung gave a total of 20.4 billion won ($17.46 million) to the two foundations.
Like the other leaders, Lee Kun-hee denied the allegations, saying Samsung “never provided support or gave donations in return for something”.
However, he admitted that his company provided a one billion won ($855,000) horse to Choi Soon-sil’s daughter, a professional equestrian, and said he regretted it.
Lee Kun-hee apologized for Samsung’s involvement in the scandal and said his company would “take all responsibility” if there was any.
South Korea’s family-owned conglomerates, known as chaebols, have increasingly been perceived as a symbol of the out-of-touch elite, and have become a target of public fury in recent protests calling for Park Geun-hye’s resignation.
The president has apologized multiple times to the public for allowing Choi Soon-sil inappropriate access to government decisions but has stopped short of resigning.
Last week Parke Geun-hye said she would leave it to parliament to decide her fate, and on December 6 she was quoted by her party’s leader as saying she would accept the outcome of December 9 impeachment vote.