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Counsel reapplies to arrest Samsung head

Special prosecutors also seek to extend their probe period
Feb 15,2017
An independent counsel investigating President Park Geun-hye reapplied for a warrant to arrest Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong on Tuesday on charges of offering bribes to the president and her confidante Choi Soon-sil and embezzling company funds.

Independent counsel Park Young-soo also applied for a warrant to arrest Park Sang-jin, Samsung Electronics president for corporate relations, on similar charges.

A judge at the Seoul Central District Court will question Lee and Park on Thursday before deciding whether to issue the arrest warrants. The 48-year-old tycoon was grilled for the second time on Monday for 15 hours as a suspect in a bribery case. He is suspected of paying large sums to Park through her friend Choi in return for the government’s support for an important merger in the Samsung Group.

Last month, the independent counsel questioned him for 22 hours and sought a detention warrant. A local judge struck that down, saying investigators failed to offer sufficient grounds.

Assistant counsel Lee said because the team is running out of time, Samsung will be the only conglomerate that it investigates. “No other probes are ongoing of other conglomerates,” he said.

Meanwhile, the independent counsel informed the National Assembly he needs to extend his probe into corruption by the president and her associates and abuse of power, a spokesman for the counsel said Tuesday.

Park and his team are investigating a range of corruption allegations involving the president, her inner circle, friend Choi Soon-sil and some of Korea’s largest business groups. The team has faced a series of obstacles over the past weeks when attempting to question President Park. By law its probe ends Feb. 28.

Opposition parties are pushing a plan to revise the law governing the independent counsel before its mandate expires. The independent counsel responded positively to that plan Tuesday, after the opposition Democratic Party and People’s Party asked its opinion.

“The National Assembly asked our opinion on a revision to the Special Prosecutor Act,” assistant independent counsel Lee Kyu-chul said, “and we created a statement on our position and sent it.”

“The statement said there is a need to extend the investigation period,” Lee continued.

“From our perspective, an extension must be considered taking into account the current progress of the investigation,” Lee said. “It is fair to say that unless an extension is granted, we won’t be able to conduct any further investigation in addition to what we have achieved so far.”

Under the current law, the independent counsel was initially given 70 days to conduct an investigation with the possibility of a 30-day extension. The extension, however, requires the approval of the president. As of now, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is acting president, has the power to give the extension, but he doesn’t seem likely to do so.

The DP submitted a revision bill to the legislature last week to extend the initial investigation period of the independent counsel to 120 days. If the change is approved before the current mandate ends, the team will have until mid-April to conduct its probe. If all other opposition parties including the conservative Bareun Party agree, the revision can be passed without the support of the ruling Liberty Korea Party.

While the independent counsel has yet to formally ask Hwang for an extension, Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the DP, said Monday that Hwang must make public his position within a few days.

“If he won’t extend, we will pass the revision to extend it,” Woo said. Assistant counsel Lee said the team is taking measures to reschedule a questioning of the president, refusing to discuss details.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]