South Korea's special prosecutor on Monday sought a warrant to arrest the head of Samsung Group [SAGR.UL], the country's largest conglomerate, accusing him of paying multi-million dollar bribes to a friend of President Park Geun-hye.
Investigators had grilled Samsung Group chief Jay Y. Lee for 22 straight hours last week as a suspect in a corruption scandal, which last month led to parliament impeaching Park.
The special prosecutor's office accused Lee of paying bribes total 43 billion won ($36.42 million) to organizations linked to Choi Soon-sil, a friend of the president who is at the center of the scandal, in order to secure the 2015 merger of two affiliates and cement his control of the family business.
The 48-year-old Lee, who became the de facto head of the Samsung Group after his father, Lee Kun-hee, was incapacitated by a heart attack in 2014, was also accused of embezzlement and perjury, according to the prosecution's application for an arrest warrant.
"The special prosecutors' office, in making this decision to seek an arrest warrant, determined that while the country's economic conditions are important, upholding justice takes precedence," special prosecution spokesman Lee Kyu-chul told a media briefing.
Prosecutors have evidence showing that Park and Choi shared profits made through bribery payments, he said, without elaborating.
Lee is due to appear on Wednesday morning at the Seoul central district court, which will decide whether to grant the arrest warrant.
Samsung, whose companies generate $230 billion in revenue, equivalent to about 17 percent of South Korea's economy, rejected the accusation that Lee paid bribes.
"It is difficult to understand the special prosecutors' decision," it said in an emailed statement.
Prosecutors have been looking into whether Samsung's support for foundations and a company backed by Choi was linked to the National Pension Service's 2015 decision to support a controversial $8 billion merger of Samsung C&T Corp and Cheil Industries Inc.
Samsung has acknowledged providing funds to the institutions but has repeatedly denied accusations of lobbying to push through the merger.
"It is especially hard to accept the special prosecutor's assertion that there was improper request for a favor related to the merger or succession of control," it said on Monday.
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