Prosecutors say Lee Jae-yong gave 43 billion Korean won ($38 million) to President Park Guen-hye’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, for political favors.
Park Geun-hye is suspected of colluding with Choi Soon-sil to get conglomerates to donate to Choi’s foundations.
The ousted president was arrested last week, after being impeached, and sent to a detention centre, although she has not yet been formally charged.
Image source Reuters
Lee Jae-yong, who appeared in court in handcuffs, has denied the bribery allegations, saying Samsung was coerced into handing over the funds.
Another four Samsung executives have also appeared in court in connection with the scandal. They also deny the accusations.
Lee Jae-yong’s case is “one of the most deep-rooted and typical cases involving unhealthy relations between politicians and businessmen,” said Special Prosecutor Park Young-Soo in his opening statement in Seoul’s Central District Court.
The 48-year-old vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics has been the parent company Samsung Group’s de facto head since his father Lee Kun-hee suffered a heart attack in 2014.
On April 7, the chairman of the powerful Lotte conglomerate, Shin Dong-bin, was also being questioned by prosecutors in connection with the widening corruption probe.
They are investigating whether donations given by Lotte to foundations allegedly controlled by Choi Soon-sil were bribes connected to the firm’s bid for a lucrative duty-free business.
Lee Jae-yong’s trial on a string of corruption charges including bribery and embezzlement has begun in South Korea.
The Samsung vice-president and heir apparent was not present at the preliminary hearing, but his lawyer denied all charges on his behalf.
The case is linked to a massive scandal that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.
Four other Samsung executives who are also facing trial have also denied wrongdoing.
The trial is expected to go on for several months.
Image source Reuters
Lee Jae-yong, professionally known as Jay Y. Lee, is currently vice-chairman 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.
He is accused of giving donations worth 41 billion won ($36 million) non-profit foundations operated by Choi Soon-sil, a friend of Park Geun-hye.
Prosecutors have alleged this was done to win government support for a big restructuring of Samsung that would help a smooth leadership transition in favor of Lee Jae-yong.
In a December parliamentary hearing, Samsung admitted giving a total of 20.4 billion won to two foundations, but denied seeking favors in return.
Lee Jae-yongalso confirmed the company gave a horse and money to help the equestrian career of Choi Soon-sil’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, something he said he now regrets.