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Samsung head’s trial over bribery begins

Lee faces charges for giving money to then-President Park
Apr 08,2017
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Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, is taken to the Seoul Central District Court on Friday to attend the first hearing of his trial. [KIM HYUN-DONG]
The trial of Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong, who is accused of giving massive bribes to Park Geun-hye during her presidency, began Friday.

The 48-year-old tycoon was prosecuted on Feb. 28 with four other Samsung executives for having offered bribes worth 43 billion won ($38 million) to Park and her friend, Choi Soon-sil, in 2015 and 2016.

While Lee said Samsung was extorted to give the money, which mostly comprised contributions to foundations Choi controlled, Park Young-soo, the independent counsel who investigated the presidential scandal that led to Park’s removal last month, saw them as bribes in return for political favors to solidify Lee’s control over Samsung.

The first hearing of the trial began at 10 a.m. at the Seoul Central District Court. Senior Judge Lee Young-hoon is trying the case. The courtroom’s 150-seat gallery was filled with members of the public who wanted to witness the opening of a landmark case linked to Park’s failed presidency. It is also seen as a crucial test in the country’s reform efforts to end its long history of crony capitalism.

Independent counsel Park and six other prosecutors attended the trial to argue the case. Lee was represented by eight high-profile lawyers. Lee, who has been in custody since Feb. 17, made his first public appearance in 40 days, wearing a gray suit instead of his prison uniform.

The independent counsel said the team has secured more than enough evidence to prove that Lee bribed Park and that the evidence will be presented in upcoming hearings. Samsung, however, said the independent counsel’s indictment was filled with speculation and logical leaps.

In his opening argument, Park summarized the case as a “the most classic example of deploy-rooted collusive ties between politics and business.” He said the independent counsel team’s investigation confirmed that Choi colluded with Park to influence state affairs for private gain. “The core of the scandal is the Samsung bribery case,” Park said.

“Countless public servants, including two former presidents and businessmen, have been punished for their collusive ties,” Park said. “But, we confirmed that the links are still continuing.”

He added, “The scandal is a hurtful wound in our history, but it is also a precious event that allowed the people to uphold the rule of law and justice.”

The prosecutors said Lee was facing various difficulties that cannot be resolved without Park’s help, including the management control transfer, and Park took the bribes because she was aware of the situation. “Even if Lee did not make direct mention [during his exclusive meetings with Park], they had a mutual understanding about illicit solicitations,” said prosecutor Park Ju-seong, “An implied solicitation is a concept allowed in Supreme Court precedents.”

Lee’s lawyers, however, said the independent counsel prosecuted Lee based on prejudice and presupposition without explicit evidence.

“In the indictment paper, the independent counsel cited supposed conversations between Lee and Park during their exclusive meetings using quotation marks,” lawyer Song Woo-chul said. “The accused never admitted to any of it, and it is impossible to understand on what grounds the prosecutors decided to use direct quotes.”

Song said the independent counsel’s argument for the management control transfer plan is also flawed. “It’s because they hurriedly built the framework as if there was bribery,” he said.

The independent counsel spent about one hour for its opening argument. In other criminal trials, an opening argument normally takes five to 30 minutes. Lee’s lawyers also spent an hour on their rebuttals.

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