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(2nd LD) Samsung executives grilled over influence-peddling scandal

All Headlines 15:20 January 09, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with press briefing in last 4 paras)

SEOUL, Jan. 9 (Yonhap) -- Two senior executives of South Korea's largest business group Samsung were questioned by investigators Monday as they accelerated the probe into allegations surrounding the influence-peddling scandal that has led to President Park Geun-hye's impeachment.

Choi Gee-sung, a vice chairman, and Chang Choong-ki, a president at the conglomerate, appeared in the office of the independent counsel team. They lead the group's future strategy planning division believed to be the de facto control tower that makes key decisions for Samsung and is closely linked to the ongoing scandal.

Choi and Chang entered the office, declining to comment on any of the allegations raised against the group.

Samsung is suspected of giving financial support to foundations and a company controlled by Park's friend Choi Soon-sil, who is at the center of the scandal, in return for a state-run pension fund's backing of a major merger deal between Samsung subsidiaries in 2015.

The probe team is investigating whether the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae pressured the state fund to support the merger in return for favors Samsung had given to Park's friend, who is standing trial over a string of corruption charges.

"The two were called in to bear witness to the case, but their statuses could change to that of suspect in the course of the interrogation," an official on the investigation team said.

On the same day, the probe team summoned Choi Soon-sil, but she declined to appear, saying she needs to prepare for her own trial slated for Wednesday and President Park's impeachment hearing Tuesday.

The Constitutional Court reviewing Park's impeachment designated Choi as a witness to appear at the court Tuesday.

She has rejected previous summons by the investigators, citing health issues.

"We thought those circumstances (about her attending the upcoming trials) could be taken into account," the probe team's spokesman Lee Kyu-chul told a regular press briefing. "We will summon her again after the hearings and see if we need to seek an arrest warrant."

Choi Gee-sung, a vice chairman at the country's largest business group Samsung, arrives at the investigation team's office in southern Seoul for questioning on Jan. 9, 2017. Samsung is suspected of giving financial support to foundations and a company controlled by President Park Geun-hye's friend, in return for a state-run pension fund's backing of a major merger deal between Samsung subsidiaries in 2015. (Yonhap)

scaaet@yna.co.kr
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