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Prosecution's committee to decide on validity of probe into Samsung heir

Industry 09:31 June 26, 2020

SEOUL, June 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's top prosecution is set to convene a committee on Friday to determine the validity of its probe into Samsung's de facto leader Lee Jae-yong over his suspected role in controversial merger and accounting fraud at the country's biggest conglomerate.

The 15-member committee, made up of outside experts, will meet at 10:30 a.m. at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul. The meeting is scheduled to wrap up at 5:50 p.m. but may be delayed depending on internal discussions.

The panel, consisting of members drawn from a pool of experts from academia, media, civic organizations and cultural industries, will review the issue and listen to preparations by the two sides -- Samsung Group and the prosecutors. Lee will not attend the meeting.

Both sides are expected to submit written opinions measuring 50 pages in length ahead of taking turns giving a presentation and answering questions from the panel.

While the committee aims for a unanimous decision, they will settle for a majority decision if opinions are divided. In case the committee turns out to be equally divided on the issue, no conclusion will be made.

The review process by external experts was established after a citizen's panel, formed by the prosecution, arrived at a decision on June 11 that the issue needed to be reassessed.

This composite image shows Samsung's heir and de facto leader Lee Jae-yong against a background of the prosecution's logo and building. (Yonhap)

Early this month, Lee requested public assessment of the investigation, an outside review system introduced two years ago to enhance neutrality and fairness of prosecutorial probes into cases that are of great public interest.

Lee, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, is under a probe for allegedly playing a role in the controversial merger in 2015 between two Samsung affiliates, Cheil Industries Inc. and Samsung C&T, and the suspected accounting fraud at the pharmaceutical unit of Samsung Biologics.

The prosecutors suspect that the merger and fraud were designed to help him gain greater control of the country's biggest conglomerate.

Lee is the grandson of Lee Byung-chull, the founder of Samsung Group. His father, Lee Kun-hee, has been incapacitated since he suffered a heart attack in 2014.

On June 9, the Seoul Central District Court rejected the prosecution's request to put Lee behind bars for a further probe into the case.

It said there was "insufficient explanation on the need and validity to arrest the defendants against the principle of trial without detention," referring to the principle that pretrial detention should only be used as a last resort. The court also said whether Lee is guilty should be determined through "legal battles and court hearings."

Although not legally binding, a conclusion by the committee is likely to affect the prosecution's legal actions against Lee.

Since the introduction of the system, the committee has given out recommendations in eight cases and the prosecution has followed all of them. But some expect the prosecution, having shown confidence all along to prove him guilty, to push ahead with its plan to indict Lee on stock manipulation and violation of capital laws.

Lee has denied the allegations against him. Samsung also has claimed that Lee was not briefed on and did not order any illegal transactions, including stock manipulation and accounting fraud.

mlee@yna.co.kr
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