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Heir to South Korea's Samsung Group Charged in Corruption Scandal

  • Ken Bredemeier

FILE - Lee Jae-yong, a vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., arrives for a hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Dec, 6, 2016.

FILE - Lee Jae-yong, a vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., arrives for a hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Dec, 6, 2016.

The billionaire heir to South Korea's Samsung corporate conglomerate was indicted Tuesday on bribery, embezzlement and other charges in the corruption scandal that has imperiled the government of President Park Geun-hye.

Samsung's de facto leader, Lee Jae-yong, was charged along with four company executives. Prosecutors had spent months building a case against Lee, alleging that he'd played a role in $37 million in payments made by Samsung executives to a friend of the Korean leader in exchange for government support of a merger of two Samsung affiliates that solidified his control of Samsung Electronics.

Lee, 48, who faces years in prison if convicted, has denied wrongdoing, as have Park and her longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil.

South Korean analysts said Lee, even if imprisoned, was likely to try to continue to run the company from behind bars, as other imprisoned corporate executives have done.

Control since 2014

Lee was arrested in mid-February, but prosecutors did not press charges against him until their Tuesday deadline. He took control of Samsung from his ailing father in 2014, overseeing its vast holdings that also include theme parks, life insurance and biologic drugs.

The special prosecution team created to investigate the matter also accused Lee of hiding assets overseas and committing perjury before parliament.

Park was impeached in the fallout from the scandal, with the country's Constitutional Court expected to rule within weeks on whether to remove her from office. She would be the country's first democratically elected leader to be ousted from office.

Park was suspended from office in December on charges that she colluded with Choi to extort the country's conglomerates to donate up to $70 million to two dubious foundations run by Choi.

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