The chairman of South Korea's Samsung group says he is quitting after 20 years of steering the global conglomerate. The move comes after his indictment for alleged corporate misdealings. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, Samsung executives say the resignation is just the start of a broader corporate reform agenda.
Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee made jaws drop across South Korea Tuesday, as he announced his resignation on live nationwide television.
He says he has decided to step down from the Samsung group chairmanship, and offers his "deepest apologies for causing great concern to the public."
South Korean prosecutors charged Lee last week for allegedly evading about $112 million worth of taxes by stashing away assets in disguised accounts. The Samsung group said Tuesday it would transfer some $4.5 billion from those accounts back into Lee's own name, pay the back taxes, and then use the funds, in their words, "for good purposes."
Lee is also scheduled to face trial for allegedly transferring control of the Samsung group to his son in an illegal manner.
Prosecutors did hand Samsung one victory last week when they said there was no evidence the company bribed influential South Koreans using secret slush funds worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Nonetheless, Samsung says it will dismantle the group's strategic planning office at the heart of the three-month corruption investigation. Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Hak-soo, one of four other executives stepping down, says the conglomerate is reforming itself.
He says Samsung wants to send a message to shareholders that it is taking steps to enhance coroporate transparency and protect their interests.
It is difficult to overstate the influence of the Samsung conglomerate in South Korea, or of outgoing Chairman Lee personally. The group is estimated to be worth about $280 billion, and generally accounts for about a fifth of South Korea's exports. Lee is widely seen as the driving force behind Samsung Electronics, known globally for its computer chips, mobile phones, and flatscreen monitors.
Many experts here believe Lee will still be able to exert considerable influence over the group, and that his resignation is mainly symbolic. He and a group of other executives indicted last week are free pending trial - because prosecutors do not want to negatively impact the country's economy.