Samsung’s group acting head, Jay Y. Lee, was put on trial in South Korea on Thursday after facing allegations that he funneled money to a close friend of the country’s President in order to gain influence and consolidate power, a political business scandal which has rocked the foundations of both Samsung and the country itself.
According to Bloomberg, the trial is being held at the Central District Court in Seoul, with a verdict required by the end of May. Lee is facing several charges, including bribery, perjury, and embezzlement, and could potentially serve five years to life in prison, though he has two levels of appeals available to him and might conceivably be pardoned like his father once was.
During the trial Jay Y. Lee denied all charges of embezzlement and bribery in what South Korean prosecutors say could be the “trial of the century.” Although the 48 year old did not attend court, his defense denied all charges on his behalf. The Samsung leader’s defense team claimed that the special prosecution’s indictment relies on conversations, evidence, and witnesses that the prosecution did not actually hear or investigate according to the law — and also states a number of opinions which have been presented as the ultimate truth are not factual.
Lee’s defense, Song Wu-cheol, told the court that “it is unclear what kind of order Jay Y. Lee is supposed to have given.” He also added that “the indictment cannot have statements that can create prejudices in the court about the case”.
Lee allegedly “ordered or paid” over $26 million to organizations linked to Choi Soon-sil, a close friend of President Park Geun-hye, in exchange for favors — particularly support from the National Pension Services for a 2015 merger between Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T, giving Lee more power within Samsung. President Park’s fate is due to be decided on Friday when judges will decide whether to throw her out of office or reinstate her.
The date of the next hearing will be decided next week.
Lee Jae-yong, known professionally as Jay Y. Lee, is a South Korean business magnate and the vice chairman of Samsung Group, serving as de facto head. He is the eldest child and only son of Lee Kun-hee, Chairman of Samsung, and is widely considered to be the future successor to his father’s position. He is referred to as the “Crown Prince of Samsung” by the South Korean media, and speaks Korean, English and Japanese. Lee is estimated to be worth US$7.9 billion, making him the third wealthiest person in South Korea.
In 2014, Lee was named the world’s 35th most powerful person and the most powerful Korean by Forbes Magazine’s List of The World’s Most Powerful People along with his father Lee Kun-hee.
Samsung, founded by Lee Byung-chul in 1938, is a South Korean multinational conglomerate company headquartered in Samsung Town, Seoul. Samsung diversified into areas including food processing, textiles, insurance, securities and retail. Samsung entered the electronics industry in the late 1960s and the construction and shipbuilding industries in the mid-1970s.