SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean court began deliberating on Thursday whether to issue an arrest warrant for a Samsung heir in connection to a massive corruption scandal that led to the impeachment of the country's president.
Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong walked into the Seoul Central District Court without speaking to the pack of reporters.
Lee and other Samsung top executives have been questioned over the past several weeks by prosecutors investigating the influence-peddling scandal that engulfed President Park Geun-hye. Park, whose power was suspended in December by the parliament, is waiting for a decision by the country's Constitutional Court on whether to permanently remove her from the presidential seat.
The prosecutors are seeking permission for the second time to arrest the 48-year-old billionaire heir to Samsung. They accuse him of giving bribes worth $36 million to President Park and her long-time friend in order to win government favors for a smooth company leadership transition.
The prosecutors are also investigating Lee on allegations of embezzlement, hiding assets overseas and lying under oath during a parliamentary hearing.
Samsung has denied that it has offered bribes or sought any wrongful favors to the president.
If the court approves the arrest warrant, the prosecutors will be able to take him into the custody for up to 21 days before they formally press charges. The approval would also help bring bribery charges against President Park.
If the court dismisses the arrest warrant, it will deal another blow to the prosecutors who have until Feb. 28 to investigate the scandal, unless the parliament extends the deadline.
The court rejected a first attempt to arrest Lee last month, citing a lack of evidence.
Lee Kyu-chul, a spokesman for the special prosecution office probing the scandal, said the investigators have since strengthened their case with additional evidence.
That includes evidence that President Park and Choi Soon-sil, her long-time friend who has been jailed for the misuse of power and other charges, spoke several hundred times using mobile phones subscribed under a third party's name.
One reason the court dismissed the arrest request in January was that prosecutors had not questioned Park, who was named an accomplice in the bribery case. The president and prosecutors have still not agreed on a schedule to question her, but the telephone records for Park and Choi could give weight to the prosecutors' argument.
Samsung was the biggest donor among South Korean companies that donated a total of nearly $70 million to two non-profit foundations controlled by Choi. Samsung also funded a huge amount of money to Choi's company in Germany that financed equestrian training of Choi's daughter.
Park Sang-jin, a president at Samsung Electronics who oversaw the company's external relations including Samsung's contacts with Choi's company in Germany, also attended the court hearing to find out if he will be arrested as well.