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(2nd LD) Samsung heir summoned as suspect in bribery probe

All Headlines 17:12 January 11, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS reactions from Samsung officials in last 6 paras; REVISES 2nd para)

SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- A special investigation team looking into an influence-peddling scandal centered on President Park Geun-hye and her longtime friend has summoned Samsung's heir apparent over allegations the group gave undue financial support to the confidante in return for business-related favors, its spokesman said Wednesday.

Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., has been summoned to undergo questioning as a suspect on charges of bribery on Thursday at 9:30 a.m., spokesman Lee Kyu-chul told a regular press briefing.

Samsung Group allegedly struck a 22 billion-won (US$18.3 million) contract with a Germany-based company owned by Park's jailed friend Choi Soon-sil and her daughter under the name of a consulting arrangement to fund the daughter's equestrian training.

Investigators here are looking into suspicions that the contract was signed in return for the state-run pension fund's backing of a major merger deal between Samsung subsidiaries in 2015. There have been allegations that the state fund was pressured by the presidential office to support the merger in return for favors Samsung gave to Choi.

The special counsel spokesman said, "All possibilities are open," when asked whether they could seek a warrant to arrest the business tycoon.

On Tuesday, the investigation team said it has secured a tablet PC allegedly used by Choi that contains information related to Samsung's funding to her company. This is the second tablet PC linked to Choi to have surfaced.

"There are nearly a hundred emails stored on the recently submitted tablet PC," spokesman Lee said. "They are mostly about how Core Sports International was established, the way it received funding from Samsung and how the money has been spent in Germany." Core Sports International is Choi's company.

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong (C) attends a parliamentary hearing on the corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye's confidante Choi Soon-sil on Dec. 6, 2016. (Yonhap file photo)

The Samsung scion was interrogated by state prosecutors in November before they handed over the case to the special probe team.

A Samsung Group spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

Although Samsung Group did not make an official comment on the Thursday questioning of Lee, some Samsung officials fretted over the fate of the group's scion because he was named a suspect in the probe.

Special prosecutors are said to have suspected that Lee took a decisive role in sending Samsung's corporate funds to Choi's company in Germany, including purchasing expensive horses for Choi's daughter Chung Yoo-ra.

Some Samsung officials expressed worries about a possible arrest of Lee.

If Lee is arrested, a Samsung official said, key business decisions at Samsung would hit a snag.

"In particular, it would be difficult for us to proceed with risk-taking investments," the official said on the condition of anonymity.

Another Samsung official claimed that the 2015 merger was not related to the group's reported support for Chung's equestrian training.

This undated file photo shows the main office of Samsung Electronics Co. in southern Seoul (Yonhap)

scaaet@yna.co.kr
(END)

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